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The Wind Demon Sonata



Chapter 1

     Kicked off the piano for laughing at the rehersal,
Marc Corbeau wandered around the hotel looking for an
object of interest…and he found it. A salesman in brown
tweeds had just walked in through the wide-open double
doors. He wore a blue silk necktie and a ginger-brown
mustache, waxed and twirled to a spike on either point. He
was big —average big — but seemed bigger beside the
object of interest.
     This was a tiny young lady with hair redder than
cinnamon. A hint of dimples touched either side of a
cherry-red mouth...and she wore powder. Marc knew the
look of face powder — from backstage — but young ladies
didn't wear powder, no way. Not nice young ladies.
     He edged up closer and gave her a solemn nod,
guessing her age to be about fifteen. She looked back out
of green-brown eyes, not shying off a bit or hiding her
2

gaze from a tiny crinkle in his own.
      "Staying this-a way? I kin offer you an' your Pa a
guide to the city's finest ee-vents. Marc Corbeau, at’yer
service."
      The man looked back from the empty counter, and
Marc flourished his cap and gave an elegant bow.
      "Start by guiding us to a hotel keep, you little—"
      The man growled an epithet but Marc didn't catch it
— he'd vaulted the low doorway of the counter and
disappeared into the back.
      "Mr. Parker, git on out. There's a cuss'mer out here.”
      "Out of here, vermin! Catch you coming back
here…"
      Marc ran out, followed by a bustling, double-wide
man who was just then slipping a black coat over dingy
white shirtsleeves.
      "What can I do for you, Sir?" asked the hotel owner.
He favored Marc a scowl out of the corner of his eye, but
Marc was caught up in trying to coax a smile from the girl
without smiling himself.
      "Room for me and the girl. Mind you make it on the
first floor and not in the middle of no walk-you-way," said
3

the big man.
     Behind his back, Marc was asking, "You going to stay
for a while?
     "I suppose. Do you work here?"
     "No, I work over in the show playing piano. Wish't I
did!"
     "Why?"
     "I could wait down here day and night and catch a
glimpse of you coming and going!"
     "Silly!" she said, dimpling.
     Her voice hurt his ears. It didn’t match her face —
he’d expected a sweet, high soprano, but instead it sounded
like an ill-tuned piccolo, stuck in the upper register and
unhappy with it. Maybe it was tensed up from the strain of
meeting a stranger…he’d find out.
     "Take your bag, Sir," said Marc, hopping forward and
seizing a ragged carpetbag and two smaller suitcases made
out of pasteboard. "I can show you anything you need to
see in N'yawlens, too. Ten cents a day; you won't find any
cheaper."
     "Know my way," the big man grunted. He didn't
seem annoyed by the soft sell in the boy's low-keyed voice.
4

It was musical and mild in its accent — a New Orleans
drawl slurred over crisp French vowels.
     "I can get you tickets to the musical show tonight,
gratis. Here's yer door."
     "You do that and we'll see about a nickel when you
come back with them," said the man.
     Marc shouldered the door open and gave another bow,
side-stepping neatly as the girl's wide skirts sailed across
his toes. Touching his cap, he hastened out the door
without a backward glance, leaving his payment behind —
the girl had started to glow at the word "musical show" and
now was bursting with gratitude on lips pursed to smile.
Jumping down the steps three at a time, Marc stopped dead
in the alley behind the hotel. A brick wall loomed up
ahead. He was owed payment of two free tickets from the
show he’d worked at last week, but why stop at two? If he
could turn up a third, then the man might find a fancy lady
to make up the difference and that would leave himself
free to spirit away the peach at the show's conclusion. Or
possibly the man might invite another businessman —
oftentimes he'd seen business concluded in the tables
around the shallow stage. In either case, they’d take no
5

notice of him.
     He ran toward the manager's office, cutting back
through the hotel kitchen and out the service door, dodging
bodies and curses as the hotel staff bustled to serve up
luncheon. The manager had a little office off the back of
the stage; it had a private rear entrance at the top of a
spindly stairs. Girls would frequently ascend those stairs
smiling and return down in tears — looking for a job,
sometimes, and other times canned at the conclusion of a
show. They wouldn't ever pay him any mind — the only
boy who could interest them would be one who could get
them an audition with the manager.
     "Mr. Pitman!" He knocked for only a second before
bursting open the door and jumping inside. The entrance
had been barricaded with a pair of bookshelves, to give a
quiet space for the manager’s desk behind. In front of the
bookcase stood a row of "waiting" chairs.
     "Go away, boy," said a high-tenor voice. "You
interrupt me only if you got some new music for me, you
know that."
     "Well, I might," postulated Marc. He stepped boldly
around the bookcase and shoved a stack of papers off a
6

chair to make a space to sit down. Two other men sat with
their heels on the desk and their heads wreathed in smoke.
The manager was leaning forward scratching out names
from a two-page roster. Marc put his heels up, too.
      The manager swiped them down with an efficient
forearm sweep. He started scanning the list again.
      "Look, Sir, I need a ticket."
      "You got two coming to you. Take 'em and get out."
      "Need another. I'm working up a song that will put
you on the big papers. It's spice, pure spice. You get Miss
Hattie singing it and you'll be turning away men at the
door."
      "Go talk to Mooney,” said the manager. His eyes had
flickered momentarily and Marc thought he had it.
      "One ticket, Sir. You know you ain't gonna sell ‘em
all."
      "Ain't going to give them away, either. You give
Moon the song and I'll talk when I hear him being the
asker."
      "Damn," muttered Marc. The song was fabrication, of
course. He did have a tune coming at the thought of the
redheaded girl, but it wasn't spice at all. More like
7

moonlight and a soft summer breeze.
      Mooney would take a sweet ballad, but it wouldn't put
him on any critical review. It would take a lot more than
great music to put a seedy tavern's burlesque show into the
newspapers. Marc had been writing for them for seven
months and it hadn’t happened, even though he know that
some of his songs, arranged classically, had given his
music teacher goose bumps. She was a stringy spinster of
about forty years of age, and he could've sworn she lay
awake nights dreaming about him—
      He reckoned he should find out some day, but right
now he needed the teacher for music instruction, not
frolicking. For frolicking, he had a weak spot for the
colored girl in Carter's tavern — every dollar he earned
was saved up for a weekly ten-dollar visit to Lulie's red-
painted crib. He had an extra dollar this last Saturday and
he'd bought her an ivory hairbrush.
      Damn, I could use that dollar now, he said under his
breath.
      He walked home miserably, not even considering
telling his Aunt and Uncle about the problem. Aunt would
have been sympathetic, but Uncle wouldn’t have coughed
8

up a cent for a cause such as this. They were driving him
to crime for sure...he knew where Uncle Henri kept the
bankbook and any extra hard money that came in the
house. But he'd get caught, and he honored Uncle's trust
more than pretty near anything. He'd come close to losing
it awhile back — when they thought he'd helped a man
pull a horse theft — and now that he had the trust back, he
wasn't risking it for nothing.
     Uncle’s house was almost a mile out of town, set back
off the road for style. A brick-paved front drive led up to a
wide, welcoming porch enclosed in pale green scrollwork.
But in the back it sported simple whitewash and only two
stone steps up to the kitchen door.
     There was always a crowd in the kitchen, so he
sneaked in the other door that led directly to the main hall.
Dodging down the hall, he found the parlor door closed —
good! In a second he was inside and strolling across the
piano keys with determination.
     The song was too sweet. The tune he'd been fingering
in his mind had taken on overtones of sadness…something
about the droop of a dress ribbon bow that hung under the
front of a neat bosom. He played it through twice,
9

committing it to memory for later elaboration—
      Maybe he'd get to play it to her one day.
      The thought started a daydream. Closing his eyes, he
imagined the dainty red lips starting with a kiss of applause
and going on to familiar consequences...that was a song
already written, just waiting to be put on paper.
Conscience reared its ugly head at time or two. It seemed
wicked to indulge thoughts like that of a nice girl, but…
what the hell. He needed the song—or he’d never find
out if the girl was a nice girl or not.
      In fifteen minutes he had the fantasy turned into
music that would have put a burlesque singer onto the front
page of the New Orleans gazette. A line of girls could sing
it—a chorus. He started to scribble it down on paper.
      But there needed to be a focus—he’d heard the music
director screaming "focus!" too often—so he tore up the
paper and started over, putting a voice in the lead and
making up words. That one voice leading the chorus
seemed to put the edge on his creation—it was perfect.
      "Marc Cor-BEAU. Is that you?" A voice called
shrilly down the hall and he jumped out of two skins.
      "You're needed!"
10

     The voice was getting closer. He crammed the music
into his back pocket and snatched up his cap—the parlor
window was latched shut but two tugs would have it—
     The door was swinging open when he closed his eyes
and vaulted the windowsill. Landing headfirst in a prickly
tangle of box hedge bushes, he fought loose and streaked
for the road.
     "...in the barn!" hollered Therese.
11

Chapter 2

      It was a twenty-minute run back to the hotel — Marc
made it in fifteen. The stage was cleared except for two
lines of girls wearing ruffled pink aprons and holding
stage-dainty fans. Their dance was as ragged as their attire
under the aprons — some of their skirt hems dusted the
ankles and others hovered over the knees; some girls wore
middy-tied blouses and others wore calico dresses tied up
at the waist with a length of rope. None of the dancers
could keep in step.
      Mr. Moon was beating his heels on the floor and
tearing out what was left of his hair—he had a bowl of
fluff around a moon-size shiny pate that was beaded with
sweat. He wasn’t a big man or a heavy one — he bullied
around the girls by the sheer weight of his voice.
      "Song for you, Sir," hollered Marc.
      "Can't you see I'm busy! Get out! Come back
tomorrow and maybe you won't come back at all!"
      "It won't take five—"
      "Out!" he bellowed, waving a fist in the sunbrowned
face at the level of his shoulders. The girls tittered and he
12

turned a fierce scowl back to the stage.
     Marc slid over behind the curtains, considering. If he
didn't get it done tonight — what chance did he have
again?
     The girls hopped on the left foot — mostly — to
disappear behind the curtain and reassemble into two
broken lines. There was an empty space in the front line
—
     Mr. Moon's voice came clearly through the velveteen
curtain. "Hop, one, left, two, kick, one — that’s the way to
smile — big smile —"
     He caught sight of Marc, second from the right in the
front line and kicking as perfectly as any of the chorus.
Marc snatched the fan from the girl on his left and covered
his face.
     He sang loud enough to be heard over the tapping
toes, "Gotta song that'll take off yer hat—gotta song that
will tip off yer boots—listen now while the listn'ns good
—"
     The music director stepped up to the stage,
determination in his weak jaw — overshadowing a hidden
grin at the corners of his mustache.
13

      "Sir — I need it today," said Marc, stepping out of
line. "If you've too busy, I'll take it over to Ross — don't
want to do it, but yer givin' me no choice."
      "Take ten, girls, and I suggest you practice pointing
your dainty toes forward before I have to take a knife to
them."
      Marc was already at the piano, scooting a rag off the
dingy keys and rattling out a rhythm that was lively
enough to draw over an audience. Moon strode over and
was followed by a handful of stage workers and a few of
the girls, eager to get a head start on the material. They'd
never seen Moon reject a one of Marc's songs yet.
      He sang, "Find me the girl I adore—" and started a
bass beat that set every toe to tapping. Not fast—but the
rhythm seemed to hit everyone with a smile. He started
singing nonsense words to highlight up a catchy-phrase
melody.
      And one or two more; I won’t stop ‘till I’m down on
the floor. Can’t—stop--chasin’ her all the time. Let her
be short; let her be tall; don’t let her stop ‘till I’m
climbing the wall; can’t; stop; chasin’ her all the time…
      Moon remarked, "Wish you was a lyricist, Marc, then
14

you'd come out with songs that Miss Hattie can sing with
only the words you make up to show them to me."
     "You'll take it then?" said Marc, rejoicing to hear the
mild approval of the music director’s voice.
     "Suits me. Brendan and me'll work up some words to
it. Finish writing it down and play it for him in the
morning."
     "Okay—"
     "Go on and let us get this practice going again.
LADIES!"
     "Need five dollars in advance," said Marc, jumping
around in front of him.
     "Five! Dollar's the usual; pay when it shows."
     "Sir, you know it's worth more."
     "I ain't gonna haggle over ever blasted song—" said
Mr. Moon.
     "I'll take two tickets if you'll give 'em to me now."
     "Two tickets?" he said, cocking an eyebrow at the
boy. "You’ve gone down pretty fast this time—for you.
Something fishy 'bout that song?"
     Marc backstepped quickly. "I meant, two tickets
today and a dollar when it shows. You know what I
15

meant."
     "Not what I heard. Go tell Mr. Pitman to give 'em to
you, and git on out'ta my sight. Only way to get rid of
him," he muttered an aside.
     Marc didn't hear it. He'd retrieved the tickets and was
halfway up the stairs of the hotel before he slowed to catch
his breath, so as to arrive at an unconcerned saunter. He
gave a quick swipe to his hair — trying to slick it down, he
only spiked it up more. It was black with a brownish
twinge, curling around in random swirls that tickled his
neck in back but were cut short around the ears. Aunt
Marguerite insisted on it.
     He tapped on the door, trying to imitate the brisk rap
of a valet.
     The girl opened it — just a crack — and he shut his
mouth quickly into a calm, grownup smile. She'd taken off
her bonnet and gloves — her red hair was loose to the
waist and damp from a wash. She was wearing a white
washing shawl over the puffed blue dress. Set off by the
white cotton, her cheeks seemed pinker than posies,
smooth and begging to be touched.
     Marc tucked his hands into pockets and bowed.
16

“Brought yer tickets. Four on 'em."
      "Tickets to the musical show? That's splendid!"
      Wincing a little at the disharmony of her voice, Marc
took the smile full-face now, melting in the radiance of the
glowing green eyes. He smiled back and held the girl's
eyes for a whole, swooning minute before she dropped
them into a warm blush.
      "If you'll wait, I'll take them down to Papa," she said.
She disappeared into the back room and he wandered
around to stand at the fire, keeping a close eye on the door
left open.
      The man did appear to be a travelling salesman. His
order book was open on the table; a list of prospects lay
half-checked beside it. A box of West Indies cigars lay on
the table and Marc's fingers itched to peek inside. One
wouldn't be missed, if the box were full....
      He sighed and tucked his hands back into his pockets
once more. Some other time.
      The girl emerged with her hair pulled back into tightly
coiled braids. Pinning on a pancake-style hat, she glided
on unseen wheels to the door. Marc was pulled after by
sheer gravitational attraction.
17

     "Shall we go find Papa, Mr. Marc Corbeau?"
     Impressed that she remembered his name, Marc still
cringed internally at the way she said it. Her voice
sounded like a cat being stepped on by the tail and there
was no getting around it. He ought to turn and run--
     He recovered the easy aplomb of a child raised on the
stage, and clapped his cap to his chest in a humble bow.
"Forgetting my manners! My humble apologies, Madam,
for failing to achieve a correct introduction. Perhaps your
esteemed father will do me the honor; please, let us go."
     "I'll do it myself," she said, tossing her head. "It's
Cherry Hunter."
     "Cher?" he said, surprised.
     "Cherry, like the fruit. You ain't an American, are
you?"
     "Born in France, but my father is an American. I been
here almost four years."
     "You speak very well, then," she said with a
condescending tilt of the head. "Papa's in the hotel dining
room, talking to a man he's selling cigars to."
     "'Course. You want to take the roundabout walk to
the dining room? Show you where I work?"
18

      "Where is that?"
      "Backstage. I'm playing the piano for you tonight, if
you're coming to the show."
      "Backstage?" her eyes widened and her gliding step
grew rougher as she scurried down the slippery, polished
hall.
      "Sure. Keep kind'a quiet, and don't take offense if
you get your cheeks pinched. You're a peach, you know."
      "Oh, you!" she reddened prettily, unable to hide a
smile at the corners of her mouth.
      Backstage was unusually quiet — calm between the
shows. The girl's eyes were big as he led her around the
starlet's dressing room, where twenty lamps hung round a
mirrored, circle wall. Pots of rouge lay everywhere; a
disarray of combs, ribbons and feathers littered a white-
powdered shelf. On the other side was a wall of costume.
      She shrieked at a line of hangers holding glittery vests
over thin white skirts — costumes for a Viking parade.
Marc put a gentle hand over her mouth, holding on until
she slapped it off, giggling weakly. He led her on, taking
the chance of sliding a hand under her arm. She took no
notice but seemed to lean closer as they went down the
19

steps beside the stage.
      "Here's the orchestra pit, and my spot there. You
won't be able to see me while the show's going on."
      "What kind of show is it?"
      "Musical numbers, and a chorus. Miss Hattie Litfield
does the headliner. One song is a story — see if you can
guess the end before she belts it out. I wrote it."
      "Oh," she said, looking him over curiously. "How old
are you?"
      "I'll tell you when you tell me how old you are."
      "I'm fifteen," she said.
      "Sixteen," he lied. "Here's where they work the lights
and set up the backdrops behind. 'Course, this kind’a
show, they don't do much with backdrops. In the opera
where my mother worked—"
      "What!"
      "...in Paris, they had whole worlds set up on
pasteboard cutouts. Once they built a city, and instead of
having painted people, they had cutout people, like large as
life paper dolls. We set 'em up around the street and in
front of the painted storefronts — from the back of the
dress circle, you couldn't tell 'em from real. Seemed to
20

move, somehow."
     "Is that all of it, then?" she asked. They'd finished up
in the little cubby where the ladder led to the trap door
opening overhead. Crammed into the little room, they
were close enough to touch at every breath. Marc wouldn't
have moved for the world.
     "Yes, we'll get on," he said.
     "You're not moving."
     "Door's behind you," he said, grinning as she spun
around with burning cheeks.
     Back out to the front stage, it was a short trek down
the carpeted hallway to the hotel lobby. The lobby was
grand with gold candle lanterns at every corner, rich velvet
curtains concealing make-believe windows at every wall.
The dining room was equally grand from the wallboard up
but the floors were simple, polished hardwood — practical
to sweep and mop away the scattered crumbs of diners.
     Mr. Hunter — Marc recited the name inside to
memorize it—was seated by the wall and talking seriously
to a man as large as himself. This man had a pince-nez
eyeglass over a bulbous red nose; his graying hair was
receding at the crown and holding only a tenuous grip on
21

adornment.
      They walked up without announcement, and Marc
was surprised to feel the eyeglass gent's gaze upon himself
instead of on the eye-catching Cherry. He ran the man's
face through a guilty conscience check and came up blank.
      "Papa, the young man has brought the tickets to the
musical show, as he promised."
      Mr. Hunter got to his feet and stepped up with a sneer
staining his ruddy cheeks. Marc had covered his own face
with an ingratiating grin and now he had a hand out—with
the tickets perched between two fingers and the palm
cupped ready for remuneration.
      The man examined the tickets closely, held them up to
the light as if to look for a watermark, then dug carelessly
in a pocket. His trousers jingled; he pulled out a single
dime and dropped it in the cupped palm.
      "Thank you, Sir," said Marc, winking at the girl.
      "Probably stolen," muttered the man as he sat heavily
down.
      "Not a chance of it, Sir. I gets them for a
consideration, for work I do on the show and around. And
of course I sell them for a bit of spending money, like
22

now."
     "Sit down then, Cherry. May we invite you and the
missus to a show at the hotel, Mr. Paussen?"
     The eyeglass man spit judiciously in the hotel spittoon
and Cherry looked away graciously. Spitting wasn't done
much in these liberal times, but it wasn't polite to look
down upon those who were afflicted with it.
     "Show ain’t fitten for wives," he said in a mountain
twang. "But that won't stop us four from seeing it. Got no
wife, nohow."
     "I'll be working," said Marc. "May I come round to
join you after it?"
     "Come along, come along. I'll save you a seat," said
Mr. Paussen, trying to grin. His fleshy face wouldn't take
a grin—it looked more like a leer.
     "Yes, why don't you?" asked Mr. Hunter, chiming in
quickly.
     "Wouldn't miss it," said Marc.
     He strolled reluctantly to the door, glancing back at
the turn. Seated sideways to the exit, Cherry had missed
tucking a foot back under her skirts—a high-heeled black
boot peeped out. Over the top of the boot he could almost
23

see the dark curve of a stockinged ankle—he knew from
experience it had to be there, but he couldn’t quite see it—
he looked up and caught a sideways grin farewell.
     Au revoir, he muttered.
     Trudging on home to chores in the barn — mucking
out stalls was always tedious but not often as tedious as
now. He'd have to take a bath afterwards, too, and it was
chilly enough he couldn't scrub off outside. He'd have to
sneak a washtub into the lean-to — and carefully.
     If Aunt heard tell of him taking a bath outside of
Saturday night, she'd have to know a story why.
24

Chapter 3

     "Curly, I'll give you a penny to muck out today."
     The lounging black man gave a snort, spitting out a
wad of sweet gum chew. He was handsome from the
shoulders down —long and lean, proportioned like a post
oak tree. His face looked a little like a post oak, too —
knobby and weathered.
     "Nickel, then."
     "Yeah, and have me holding out my hand for a job
well done, to hear you say, 'Pay you when I get it.' You
think I’m a fool!"
     "Got it, see?" Marc held out the dime on the tip of a
finger.
     "Don't look like no nickel to me. Looks like a dad-
blame dime."
     "I kin change it —"
     "Now I'm hearing you say, 'Pay you soon as I get it
changed.'"
     "Aw, come on."
     "Git on the work," said Curly Joe, taking up the rake
and hitting Marc mid-chest with a forkful of dirty hay.
25

      "Damn! You just blew yer nickel! Might as well do it
myself, now." He took up a fork and squeezed into the
nearest stall, crowding the ancient gray gelding back into a
corner by leaning his entire weight on the horse's shoulder.
      "What's so big you ain't got time for Nussy?" asked
Curly Joe.
      "It ain't time, it's washing. Got'ta girl I got to dandy
up for."
      "Oh! You can take Molly's stall then. She got a fine
smellin' pile in there."
      "What's that little witch doing in the barn? It's spring,
ain't you noticed?"
      "Dang chilly spring, if you tell me. I had a blanket on
the filly last night."
      "She's a fine girl," Marc said. Echoing what he'd
heard so often; it always seemed to get Curly Joe in a good
mood.
      "Fine girl. Going to be a race horse next year."
      "Don't let Uncle hear you saying that."
      "Shoot, you know he won't care. He'd act like he was
surprised. An' he bought the filly."
      "Yeah, I can hear him now," said Marc, laughing.
26

"Speaking so mild — he'll say, 'well, I didn't know I was
breeding any racing horses. Mr. Curly, did you know
anything about this?' And you'll say nossuh. And he'll
shrug his shoulders and tell you to carry on, carry on.
Wouldn't let a fine filly go to the plow."
     "Look at the stretch of that chest—fine breadth. She
picks 'em up so dainty and only gets surer when she's
going the fastest. Lots'em hosses gits rough-gaited when
they's at the top speed. Rough—like they ain’t balancing.
She's balancin’ on air."
     "You're taken on that filly. Whyn'cha find a girl
girl?"
     "Too old for that foolishness. Girl wouldn't be as
faithful, nuther."
     "Or as fast. Miz Sally, now—"
     "She too old for that. And you’re too young."
     "There, that's done," said Marc, tossing the fork up in
a neat arc to spear the pile of hay.
     "You need to cut extra kindling tonight. Cook's
gonna fire up the big oven."
     "Hell fire!" shouted Marc, storming toward the door.
But the door was opening by itself—he clapped a hand
27

over his mouth and said a quick prayer.
     It was Uncle Henri, and his slick black hair looked
ruffled. He wore a pointed black mustache over a straight-
line mouth, and his mouth was pressed thinner than Marc
had ever seen it pressed.
     "Good afternoon, Sir," Marc ventured.
     "Up until now, I would have said your command of
the English language was admirable," said Uncle Henri —
in French. He didn't speak French very often.
     "Thank you, Sir."
     "Why don't you stay home tonight and write me out a
hundred 'Glory be to the father's', in longhand, and say
each one out loud as you write it."
     "But Sir —"
     "You had an objection?"
     Marc would've turned pale if his tanned skin would
have allowed it. Uncle's eyebrows were streaking into
danger; he wasn't a violent man but when given the clear
need to whip, he would whip with thoroughness. He
whipped like he had the determination that if he just did it
right, he would not ever have to do it again.
     Marc agreed — one whipping from Uncle was all he
28

ever intended to endure.
       "Sir, I've given my word to play at the show tonight.
I'll leave them in an awful lurch if I don't show up. Uncle,
my word."
       "Very well. The show is over at nine," he said,
switching to English so that Curly Joe could understand.
"You'll have plenty of time to write them later because you
will come straight home. See Joe when you get here — no
later than a quarter after nine — I won't be at home."
       "Thank you, Sir."
       "Have them on my table at breakfast."
       "Yes, Sir. May I be excused?"
       At Uncle's nod he trudged out the door. There was a
stack of small logs to be split, so he wouldn't have to haul
a load from the big wood stack against the back fence.
Just behind the kitchen was a huge circle of a log that they
used as a chopping block. This job would be easy enough,
but slow…no chance for practicing the piano before
dinner.
       Even if he got finished faster, he have to start on the
endless writing...how long would it take to write a hundred
at...twelve words each—no, thirteen. Some lucky thirteen.
29




Chapter 4

     Ready in his place a quarter hour before curtain, Marc
played velocity exercises to warm his fingers up. He
disguised them as a tune—until Mr. Moon came up and
told him to slow down.
     "This is a theater, not a gymnasium. Play something
quieter."
     Marc scowled back. When the man walked away, he
played from memory a Chopin prelude he had just learned
— so engrossed he was in the melody, he didn't notice the
music director turn back and stare.
     When he finished and looked up — catching the
director's glance — the man dropped his eyes and
shambled away.
      Brisk as it was, tonight the show seemed to drag. He
couldn’t get up to see if she was there. Closing his eyes,
he could imagine the cherry-red smile looking over the
candles. Memory continued to a hollow in the throat
30

above a low-necked gown...would she be wearing a low-
necked gown? At the neckline was a swell of breasts—
     He snapped eyes open and shook his head like a dog.
It wouldn't pay to continue down — besides the
embarrassment of possibly missing a cue, it didn't seem
decent somehow. She was a nice girl, wasn't she? Even if
it made a good song, he didn't ought to be thinking of a
nice girl looking like that...until they were married.
     It was a puzzle, and it gripped him for the next three
songs. What was the point of girls if you weren't supposed
to lust on them until you were married, which he hadn't
plans to do for many a long year. Did he have to marry
Miss Cherry before he could think about her? He didn't
know that he wanted to marry her just to think indecent —
marriage ought to be something more, like a best chum;
like someone who made you laugh or someone who could
sing like Miss Hattie.
     Miss Hattie was coming on stage now and he rolled a
grand arpeggio of announcement. She preferred to sing
with only the piano — she swore that violins screeched
like cats and the tooting of horns made her sound like a
bugleman. She'd refused to work with him until Moon
31

snuck him in one day — substituted him for the other
pianist when her back was turned — and now she liked
him so well that she complained when he was absent.
     She held the A-flat and he sprinkled into the chorus,
silently cursing the uneven press of the ancient keyboard.
His teachers would have rapped his knuckles if they heard
him playing a chord as a ragged trio of notes. And when
he played too softly, half the keys didn't sound at all.
Imagine playing a concert on such a piece of junk!
     When the last dancer tripped off stage, Marc was
down the stairs before the curtain fell. He didn't bother
taking the bow, missing a chance to smile down on Cherry
from above.
     Crowded between tables of smoky men, he caught a
sprig of pink skirt against the far wall. She was still
applauding, scanning the faces of the players as if she were
looking for him.
     "Missed me," he said at her elbow.
     "Oh! You weren't really playing, were you?"
     "'Course I was. You liked the song, "Moaning
Rosie?"
     "Yes! It was grand!"
32

      "Sit on down," said Mr. Paussen, pushing out a chair
beside him. Cherry's papa was still ogling the ladies taking
bows—their skirts were lifted gracefully in a curtsy and
the crowd roared at every bow.
      Marc noted that Mr. Paussen’s big nose was red and
his cheeks ruddy; his mouth was slack with a glitter of
spittle at one corner. Too bad I can't offer to take him
down to Storyville in front of the lady.
      "Get you a drink, young sir?" asked Paussen.
      "No, let me get us all one," said Marc, hopping up
again.
      Mr. Hunter reached in a pocket and pulled out a fistful
of change. "Here, take this to treat — and that will give us
a second to finish up our business here."
      "Not such a hurry, Mr. Hunter. I'm still looking over
your prospectus," said Mr. Paussen, reseating his eyeglass
over his beady eyes. Over his shoulder, Marc saw him
spread out a paper flier in front of him, but his eyes were
glued to Marc's retreating derriere.
      One of those! Looking down at the change in his
hand, Marc saw that he'd only been given five nickels to
buy beer — it had jingled like more. He took the dime out
33

of his own pocket to augment it.
      "Three beers and an ice cream soda," he said. "And
the gent with the eyeglass wants two shots of whiskey in
his beer."
      "Thirty-five cents," said the barkeep. He didn't move
from his seat until the money was spread in front of him.
Then he moved like lightning — tin cups sloshed on the
counter and the money disappeared in his tailcoat. The
soda sparkled and fizzed over the side.
      When Marc laid the cups on the table, he could see
that the business was still not at a conclusion. Mr. Hunter's
fingers were tapping a pen on the table — he'd stop, tap —
then flick the pen down to lean back and expand his
shoulders in an over-satisfied sigh. As soon as the cup
landed in front of Paussen, Hunter pushed it closer and
said, "Drink hearty! Plenty more down cellar in a teacup."
      Paussen took a deep draught and licked his lips.
      "How do you ever keep up?" Miss Cherry was asking
Marc. "Them dancers go on so fast!"
      "Shoot, I wrote the song. My fingers can move faster
than their pretty little feet in lacing-up shoes. Maybe
barefoot they could out pace me; maybe not."
34

     She blushed a trifle and sipped on her soda. The two
men were talking tobacco or something, but he was facing
Cherry and could shut them out completely.
     "I guess you wrote all them songs?" she asked.
     "Nope. The starter — Rose in Winter — I adapted
from an old French dance. Then Miss Hattie's introduction
I didn't write at all — the music leader, Mr. Moon came up
with it. I wrote Miss Hattie's Sweet Serenade and her Not
Talkin' to You — I only wrote the music, mind you, not the
words. Yesterday I wrote a song for you."
     "Go on!"
     "Sure. When can I get a chance to play it for you?
Tomorrow?"
     "Maybe tomorrow — ask Mr. Hunter. He's going to
call on some businessmen in the afternoon."
     The drone of men's talking had stopped, and Marc
looked up with a smart grin. "May I call on Miss Hunter
in the afternoon, Sir? I'd like to walk her down Fremont
Street and show her the shops, if she's interested."
     "Don't know," he grunted. "You'd care to do me a
job, first, young man?"
     "Anything," said Marc, flourishing his cap. He
35

stuffed it back in a pocket quickly — one more lost hat and
Aunt would probably cut his head off.
     "Mr. Paussen needs a guide back to his hotel room —
the Morning Sun Hotel — and a lookout for pickpockets.
Mind you stick by him close, get him there the shortest
way, and check on his room for vermin, you hear? You
take care of him real well — then we'll talk Fremont
Street."
     Golly. That man was actually blushing — Mr.
Paussen was blushing. How much whiskey would it take
to do this job, anyway?
     "Sure. Let me get you one more beer afore the bar
closes," Marc said. He stood up and scrambled a hand
around in his pocket.
     Swift on the hint, Mr. Paussen dropped a silver dollar
on the table. Hunter pushed it back to him and stood up,
laying a beefy hand on Marc's shoulder and walking him a
step or two away.
     He growled, low, "You understand what I'm saying."
     "Yep. I need thirty cents for the beer."
     "Make him happy," said Paussen, counting out the
money.
36

     "I said, I understand."
     "Else there won't be any calling — or anything else."
     "Do my best," said Marc, shaking off the hand and
pushing past him. Maybe I can compose a funeral march
— to the death of my good sense.
     She wasn't worth it — but he wasn't about to run out
in the middle of an interesting game, either. If it came
down to it, he could always run away later.
     "Nother beer with two shots — aw shoot, make it
three. And two beers."
     "You up to something fishy — boy?" The bartender
looked over Marc's shoulder at the table by the wall. The
two men appeared to be signing something.
     Hurray; papa got his deal. "No, this one’s for me.
Trying to get myself silly enough to go through with what
I'm about to do," replied Marc.
     The man looked sharply at him, then at the men at the
table — then back, breaking slowly into a sour grin.
"Make it worth yer while, kid."
     He shoved the beers across and added an extra splash
of whiskey to the doctored one. It had a chip at the rim.
When Marc carried them back, he made careful to keep his
37

back toward the bartender as he handed the chipped mug to
Mr. Eyeglasses.
38

Chapter 5

      "...you won't be missing a switch, not a switch.
Earson's cigars are the best-rolled tobacco in ten counties.
Your fine customers will be surprised by the quality, even
if you sneak ‘em in. Wait ‘till the word gets around town."
Mr. Hunter went on and on.
      Marc sat down quietly and sipped at the edge of his
glass, staring over the rim at Cherry. She'd lost a good bit
of her color from earlier; her eyes stayed mostly downcast.
Mr. Hunter was in a fine, expansive mood — he started a
story of a fellow salesman who'd gone to the enemy — a
rival tobacco firm — and lost everything he had. Mr.
Paussen smiled and nodded, staring at Marc; Marc smiled
and nodded, staring at Cherry. Cherry stayed solemn,
stirring down at the bubbles in her soda and hitching her
chair a hairsbreadth away from the men at every pause.
      Marc tried a casual touch of her toes under the table
— he bumped a heavy boot and tucked his own shoes
back. Mr. Paussen had gulped down the beer; he stood up
while Marc's beer was only half-finished and made
motions to depart.
39

       "Bye, Miss Cherry," said Marc. She smiled back at
him.
     The sweetness of the smile bolstered him up like a
Bach cantata — he tripped merrily along at Paussen's side
and tried not to hear the man's sputtering and fawning
words as he staggered out to the street and laid a grossly
familiar arm on Marc's shoulder.
     "I could sure use another drink," mentioned Marc.
"Didn't like to tell it in front of the lady. Couldn’t 'cha
spring for a bottle, and we'll take it back and share it
between us."
     "Nothin' I wouldn't do...tell me where....nothing too
good...."
     "Turn off a step here, and we'll go in the corner bar at
Fourth Street."
     “Here, buy what you want,” said Mr. Paussen,
handing him a twenty-dollar bill.
     Marc gawked at it for a second and said, “This is too
much—“
     “Keep it,” said the man, hugging him.
     “You can wait here, I won’t be but a minute,” said
Marc, smiling like he meant it for once. Twenty dollars
40

put a whole different slant on the endeavor.

     *

     Marc took one good gulp and passed the bottle back,
promising himself to fake the other drinks.
     "Take off your shirt, there's a good boy."
     Get it over with. He's probably seeing four of me by
now. Remember Monsieur Fre's lesson—
     A long time ago in Paris, Marc had taken a few
months of music lessons from a man who favored boys but
honored the decency of his profession by not approaching
students. Curious as a cat, Marc had talked him into
explaining the process — without visual aids — and
Monsieur Fre had followed up an ecstatic rhapsody on the
arts of love with a short lecture on how a young fellow
could fool a man who wasn’t too sober.
     This advice had been offered with a series of winks,
but Marc never took the hint. Wishing now he'd taken the
chance to practice, he took a second gulp of whiskey and
looked over at the door.
     It was cracked open a good two inches. He turned off
41

the light and sat on the bed, trying to get the process
started without getting pawed at too much.
      No worse than what I've paid Lulie to do, every
Saturday night. Wonder if she feels this way? Is she ever
about to throw up, like the way I feel right now?
      She always made out she enjoyed it — goddamn--I'm
a pig. Sure, she enjoyed the money she made, but how
could she enjoy loving on a boy she never even kissed,
hardly even talked to? Girls set a store by talking...and
there never was nothing he could talk to her about. Damn.
      He'd ask her about it next Saturday...or maybe just
skip the whole thing.
      A tap on the shoulder made him jump ten feet.
      “Just minute…gotta get my trousers off…” he said,
standing up. Backing away silently, he felt more than saw
his place being taken over.
      Clarence…or Claire, he preferred to be called—would
take it from there. He’d jumped at the chance to do the
job…at a much better pay rate than his usual. For twenty
dollars he’d have taken on a whole room full of drunk
middle-aged men. And if things went as expected, Mr.
Paussen would never know he wasn’t Marc.
42

     Marc took a last swig of the cheap, watered-down
whiskey. Jerking on his shirt and grabbing up his jacket,
he stuck a careful nose out the door.
     Instinct made him draw it back in. He would put on
the jacket first, then stick up his head and walk out like he
belonged there. None of this mincing out with his tail
between his legs like an old yellow dog—that was one sure
way to get caught. He'd almost forgotten his cap, too.
     Pretending to walk like he owned the world, he was
quickly down the street and halfway to home before he
drew a deep breath. Stars were out — quiet and coolly
beautiful — but they weren't singing tonight. Sometimes
they sang to him...it was a secret that he didn't like to talk
about.
     Nothing was singing. Not a single cricket; not even
an old mockingbird. There were some frogs by the canal,
grumbling about the weather. The crunch of his feet on
gravel sounded ugly. Squishing up a waterbug; the guts
ran green.
     ...and sticky. He was sticky, too—with sweat and
deceit and dishonesty.
     He turned and ran to the canal. Kicking off shoes, he
43

dove in headfirst, fingers pointed down in a perfect V.
     Damn, it was cold! He dove under again—and again
—until he was shaking with cold. He climbed out and
shook off the drips, drips catching the faint starlight in
distant sparkles.
     Wet feet into shoes—each step made a taletell squelch
and he headed for home, humming once more.
44

Chapter 6

     Three sheets of paper covered in cramped, tiny
writing. Marc set them neatly beside his uncle’s plate and
sat down in his place, resting his forehead on crossed arms.
The dining room was empty and perfect for a quick snooze
— actually, anywhere would have been perfect for a quick
snooze, just then.
     It had misted up during the night. The faint sunlight
of spring came slowly in the windows, diffused and soft on
his black-brown head. In ten seconds he was sound
asleep; when the girl came in to set out a plate of steaming
potato cakes, she giggled and let him be. It wasn’t all that
unusual.
     The smell of sausage crept into his dreamless world
and then it was raining.
     “Wake up, drippy head,” sang Cousin Louisa, poking
him in the ribs. She put her water glass hastily back on the
table as Uncle Henri came in.
     “Lousy Louisa,” said Marc under his breath. He
watched anxiously as Uncle flipped through the pages,
then set them aside without a word. That was over.
45

      Aunt Marguerite rustled in, dressed in a cream-
colored morning gown. Her glossy black hair was crimped
into a perfect frame for her harmonious oval face. She had
a thin, high arched nose and pencil-thin eyebrows
delicately poised above eyes as black as Marc’s. She
patted him on the head and took her seat; he smiled
automatically at the faint smell of violets that always
followed her hand.
      "Good morning, dear,” she said to Louisa. “Marc,
you look tired to death.”
      The girl brought them all tiny cups of café au lait;
Marc drained his in one quiet swallow and asked for more.
It was so usual as to be automatic, but when the refill came
he drank that too, ignoring the sausage platter that was
waiting to his right.
      “Coffee is to be sipped, not slurped,” said Louisa,
waiting impatiently for the sausage.
      “I didn’t make a sound,” he protested. “What side of
the trough did you get up on?”
      “Marc,” said Aunt, so quietly it was almost a whisper.
      “I beg your pardon.”
      “Monsieur and Madam Benet have returned. He can
46

see you at eleven o’clock,” said Uncle Henri. His own
cup of coffee was emptied as quickly as Marc’s, but he
didn't draw attention to it.
      “I hope he brung some new exercises,” said Marc,
sitting up straighter and attacking the sausage that he’d
been moving around on his plate. His stomach was still
queasy from the whiskey. “I been workin’ on the last one
for two weeks — it’s a doozy.”
      “Toast, sir?” said Savanna, hovering at his elbow.
      “Sure.” He favored her with the smile he reserved for
girls who might sleep with him someday. Taking care to
keep his touch so gentle she could barely feel it — girls
liked that sort of thing — he held her elbow to steady the
tray while she served from it.
      Her face didn’t flicker but he looked back at his plate
and saw three triangles of toast instead of one. It wasn’t
what he intended, but he shrugged and reached for the
peach jam.
      "Brought some new exercises," echoed Louisa
absently.
      "Sure," said Marc, drawling it out to sound like,
shore. “I done done all de othern; ain't nuttin' lef’."
47

       "Mother, may I please eat in my room, alone? With
polite company."
       Marc said pleasantly, in French, "Polite as your
imagination can make it." He knew she didn't speak good
enough French to answer him back, and he also knew that
it irritated her to be reminded of that.
       "Just because you talk like a shanty-bred coon—"
       "Louisa." Uncle Henri's voice startled them both — it
was razor sharp. He almost never took notice of their
bickering, so long as they bickered quietly. "One more
word and you will go to your room."
       After a startled pause, Marc said, "You can finish
fixing that lace on your Sunday dress."
       Her face turned crimson, jerking around to fix him
with wide eyes and a pursed mouth. Holy Mother of God!
She must not have told Aunt Marguerite about her torn
Sunday dress.
       He'd meant to be mean, but not that mean.
       "Oh, Louisa, you didn't! That dress is brand new
from the dressmaker!" said Aunt.
       Aunt Marguerite's face looked so distraught that Marc
felt like a double heel—one, for what he’d done to Louisa
48

and another for distressing Aunt Marguerite.
     "It’s — it's just a little rip," stammered Louisa.
     "She caught it on the coal hod at church, at the social
Friday night," lied Marc. It wasn't exactly a lie — she'd
indeed torn it at the social. She'd been out in the back
courtyard talking to her forbidden beau when Uncle Henri
had stepped out the door, talking to the priest. Marc had
hissed at her to vault the fence and run, and she had — but
her skirt hem caught on a nail and flashed a shocking view
of petticoats and stocking tops to the whole assembled
masses.
     Uncle hadn't seen it, thankfully.
     "Why didn't you bring it to me, dear?" said Aunt,
smiling gently.
     "I just —"
     "May I be excused?" said Marc, swallowing his third
cup of café au lait. The toast was stuck in his esophagus
somewhere, refusing to go down and join the churning
whiskey. He added, "Piano lesson at nine."
     "That's right. Louisa can walk over with you; she's
getting of an age when she shouldn't be running about the
streets alone. It looks poorly for a sixteen-year-old," said
49

Aunt Marguerite.
      "I guess my fourteen-year old cousin can act as a
chaperone," said Louisa, giving him an unusually friendly
nod.
      "Fifteen in five months," he growled.
      "Could you play for my sewing club this afternoon?"
Aunt asked Marc.
      "Well, I'd —" his uneasy stomach gave a sour turn.
There went his afternoon with Cherry. "I have to meet
with Monsieur Benet at eleven and I don't know how long
he'll keep me."
      "Please," said Aunt Marguerite, arching her eyebrows
sweetly. Even at forty she was a beautiful woman — and a
kind one — and Marc always had trouble turning her
down.
      "I'd love to," he said.
      "Play the pieces from the concert and that will give
you some practice. It's at Mrs. Thornwright's house and
she has a beautiful piano."
      "Don't listen to her, Marc. She's trying to give her old
cronies a sneak peek at the concert agenda," said Uncle
Henri, crinkling his eyes into a wink.
50

     "I am not!" said Aunt, grinning prettily. They
exchanged a secret smile, as young and eternal as a
mother's love. It confounded Marc as he watched — how
they could still have such a perfect partnership after twenty
years of marriage. They teased — held hands — and he'd
even seen them exchanging a secret kiss under the
mistletoe at Christmas.
     What did you do, to earn a love so enduring? Aunt
Marguerite had gotten married at fifteen.
     "You can go," Uncle said.
51

Chapter 7

     Louisa kept him waiting ten minutes. When she
finally descended the front stairs, she was decked to the
teeth in a brown velvet riding habit and an English bowler
hat with an enormous feather plume dancing over her
shoulder.
     "Why so smart?" Marc asked, jumping elegantly
down the stairs in the vain hope of speeding up her
mincing steps.
     "Oh, you never know who you might meet."
     "Like Bill Thornton?"
     "You never know," she said, smiling. "Thank you for
not telling about the fencepost."
     "I thought you'd told her."
     "I might as well. Everybody saw it."
     "Shoot, hardly anybody did. I was standing closest to
you and I didn't see but two or three people looking your
way."
     "Lila saw it and said they did. And everybody who
didn't see it, she told them anyway."
     "She's a lying snit. She wasn't even looking your
52

way. And believe me, people ain’t thinking high of her,
for telling a story like that."
      "You're not so bad sometimes — for a boy."
      Marc grinned. "Wish I had a brother. We'd gang up
on you and tease you to tears."
      "Hah. Then I'd have to tell how you came home last
night at midnight, dripping wet, with liquor on your breath.
Joe told me."
      "I didn't have liquor —“ He gulped. “Did I?"
      "Chew a couple of coffee beans, it'll take the smell
away."
      "How d'you know?"
      "I read about it, silly."
      "Thanky. I'll try it. You're not so bad sometimes —
for a girl."
      "Thank you," she said archly. They walked in silence
for ten minutes, at last opening the gate at old lady Minya's
little cottage, just two doors down from the St. Francis
Catholic church. Even from the outside the cottage had a
fussy sort of look, with a crocheted door hanging and pink
lace curtains at the front windows.
      Marc stepped gingerly over a trio of purring cats and
53

bowed to the little maid who opened the door. The gesture
startled her into a giggle.
      "You're a little late, aren't you?" asked Miss Minya,
mincing to the doorway and crowding the maid to the
background. "I hope everything is all well."
      "I was delayed," he said, stepping back to roll his eyes
at Cousin Louisa.
      "Oh, and of course!” Miss Minya noticed Louisa and
changed her purring tone.” Your lesson is at ten, is it not,
Miss Corbeau?".
      "I brought a book," said Louisa, "so I could wait."
      "Aw, come on," said Marc. "It's too beautiful a day to
be cooped up in a drawing room for an hour reading books.
Go take a walk — we won't tell on ya."
      "Now, young man —" Miss Minya stopped short at
the smile and wink he gave her.
      "It is a fine day," she said, forgetting to keep a stern
face.
      "I won't be but a minute," said Louisa with a smile
bright as sunshine. Sometimes she looked just like Aunt
Marguerite — and sometimes like Mother. Marc found
himself liking her…almost. For a girl cousin, she wasn't
54

so bad...but a mighty poor substitute for a brother. Since
his mother had been dead for almost four years now, he
wasn't likely to find any other relation to choose from.
     She said, "I'll just step down and look in shops and if
anyone asks —"
     "Say that your buggy driver is right behind you — or
he was just this minute — oh, where did he go?" supplied
Marc in a girlish falsetto that ended in a high-pitched
shriek.
     "Oh, please," said Louisa, vanishing out the door.
     "Come now," said Miss Minya, taking him by the arm
and leading him firmly to the drawing room. "You will
take up where you left off, with the adagio movement, and
continue until I say stop."
     His fingers jumped eagerly to the keys. It was always
a welcome shift from the music in his head to the rich
tones outside, harmony and change, over-filling the air
with magic. It was an air he breathed more naturally than
the earth's, and he never seemed to get his fill.
     Miss Minya sat alongside, as drunk in the music as he
himself. She never interrupted to give him directions —
she hadn't for over a year now. At the breaks she gave
55

hints, asked questions, or asked him to repeat a passage
that wasn't as perfectly expressed as the rest; but the rest of
the criticism she left to his own inner conductor. He knew
better than she what needed to be corrected; he'd surpassed
her years ago and they both knew it well.
     But still it was nice to be there. Her face wrinkled
when it smiled but her brown eyes sparkled when he
looked up for praise. It was good to have a listener who
never grew tired, never fidgeted or hummed under her
breath...and never asked him to play church hymns.
     "Do you have anything new for me?" she asked. The
clock was pushing ten but Louisa had not returned.
     "Just a little nonsense ballad, and I haven't finished it
out yet," said Marc. He stretched out his fingers and
played Cherry's tune, making up a tenor counterpart as he
went along. But it didn't work — yet —
     "Not ready yet," he said, shaking his head and playing
a mournful E-minor arpeggio.
     "It will be beautiful," said Miss Minya.
     He looked up, wondering if she could tell him the
secret of how to choose the one who you'd spend your life
with. Silly idea — talk to a spinster about finding your
56

one true love? But for all he knew, she'd had one and lost
it — maybe he could find out —
     Louisa rushed in and interrupted his first leading
question. Just as well.
     She started her lesson as he stretched and stepped out
the door into the scattered sunlight.
     It was a fifteen minute run to the hotel from there, and
Marc was determined to make it there and back before the
ladies noticed he was gone. He didn't know how long
Louisa's good graces would persist if she were stuck at
Miss Minya's without an escort home. Not that she needed
an escort anywhere — gosh almighty, what a silly idea.
     He'd rather be escorting Miss Cherry to the soda shop.
Damn! What if she wanted something this afternoon? He
didn't have any money.
     The idea disturbed him for a moment, then he decided
she'd just have to fork over her own cash for a drink, if she
wanted it bad enough. He'd spent ten cents on her already.
     "I should have rolled the drunk with the pince nez," he
said out loud, dodging onto the sidewalk to avoid a trotting
horse cart. Immediately he stopped dead to keep from
colliding with a wheelbarrow. It was being pushed by a
57

big black man —his wide straw hat was pushed back and a
trickle of sweat streaked his shining forehead.
      "Go on, suh," said the man. There was only room for
one person; the board sidewalk had narrowed to cross over
a drainage ditch. The man started to back up to give him
right of way.
      "Get on, Sir," said Marc, laughing at the incongruity
of the sight. The wheelbarrow was loaded with bricks and
it must of weighed two hundred pounds — but the man
was yielding to him just because he was white. "I'll git
off."
      He leapt the ditch and cleared the mud by almost two
feet. One foot hit a little squishy — no time to look down
and fret — he was running again on the loud-pounding
sidewalk. He needed to brush off the mud before he got to
Madame Benet's house. That woman would freeze you
dead if you dared to walk in her door with mud on your
shoes.
      At the hotel he stopped again and checked himself in
the hall mirror. Trying to flatten down his hair and failing,
he took off his cap, brushed a speck of soot and held the
cap casually behind him.
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     No one answered his knock. Waiting a full minute for
the disappointment to sink in, he drooped back down to the
front desk.
     Mr. Parker was checking keys against the registry. He
raised one eyebrow as the boy skulked nearer, but was
silent.
     "S'Miss Hunter out?" Marc asked.
     "None your business, you know that," said Mr.
Parker.
     "She asked me to show her the town this afternoon. I
told her I worked for you, so you're going to look bad if I
don't show."
     "Stinking sewer rat. How dare you tell her that?"
     "'Did," Marc said, shrugging.
     "I'm about to untell her, soon as I see her." Watching
closely, Marc saw the man's eye flicker. In the direction of
the dining room!
     "I'll tell her you fired me!" said Marc. "An' they'll be
out’ta here tomorrow!" He left the words trailing behind
as he eluded the man's vicious grab and ran down the hall
to the dining room.
     Miss Cherry caught his eye instantly. She was
59

looking sweetly bored, toying with a slice of apple and
staring out the window. At the other end of the small
table, her pa was talking energetically and flourishing a
pad of lined paper in the faces of two doubtful-looking
gentlemen.
     Marc stopped to brush off his coat. Sauntering
casually toward the window, he came into her line of sight
before he seemed to notice her.
     She started violently and sent the apple slice flying.
"Hello!" she said shrilly. "Is it time for my tour already?"
     Her tinny, tuneless voice jarred painfully with the
harmonious beauty of her face and hair, and Marc felt a
tiny groan escape him. He sat down beside her, tossing his
cap back and forth between his hands.
     "No, I got a music lesson. And my aunt’s done went
and arranged my afternoon without asking me. Can I
come get you at four?"
     "I suppose," she said, with a sweet, heart-wrenching
sigh. Her eyelids drooped and he toyed with the idea of
pleading illness at Aunt Marguerite's club—
     Mr. Hunter was speaking heartily; it intruded on
Marc's silent reverie. "And I will guarantee the finest cigar
60

outside of the West Indies, or your deposit is safe in the
bank and ready to return. But I never had to make good on
a guarantee yet."
      "Only the leaf, Sir, and we'll talk guarantee's when my
clerk draws up a contract. If you can come by later this
afternoon, before supper, we'll wrap this up."
      "Thank you sir, thank you! You won't be at all
disappointed."
      "You'll be bringing the little lady along to supper?"
said the other man, casting an unfavorable glare over at
Marc and Miss Cherry. Marc didn't like the looks of the
man — nor did he like the way Miss Cherry kept her face
firmly turned away from the rest of the table.
      Mr. Hunter seemed to be considering something. A
sly sort of smile was creeping across his lips; he pushed his
chair back a fraction and nodded his head at Cherry.
      "Daughter, you were still planning to go out walking
this afternoon?"
      She looked up, startled at the address. "Yes, at four
o'clock, can't I? I needed to pick up some little things—I
might look at a pair of gloves, and I need to visit the
drugstore. And I have the list you gave me—maybe I can
61

convince my kind guide to help me carry the parcels?"
     Her voice was strained; even more painfully tuneless
than usual. Marc found himself wishing she'd stop talking
so he could stare at her sweet blushing cheeks and
daydream her back into a true love.
     "I only hope you won't make yourself too tired to
attend a late supper?"
     "I'll try," she said, giving that same sweet sigh she'd
given to Marc's news. "I am always glad to help you
conduct business, Papa, if you need me." The emphasis on
the word Papa made Marc's ears prick up with a hint of
mystery. They didn't look that much alike….
     "I'm not sure if I will need you—"
     "Bring her along," said the other man. "I'll talk
Drosset around soon enough." He stood up to leave and
Marc remembered his own business.
     "Got’ta go, I'm sorry. I'll be prompt at your door, four
on the clock."
     "If you please, meet me in the parlor," she said. "I'll
wait for you there."
     Marc's casual saunter through the door turned into a
dead-heat run as soon as it swung shut behind him. Stuck
62

on the steps behind a slow-moving trio of businessmen, he
vaulted the rail and jumped off the side of the landing.
Ignoring their mutters of distaste, he ran pell-mell down
the board sidewalk in front of the Crown Hotel.
      At the sidewalk bridge over the drainage ditch he met
the black man again; this time his wheelbarrow was empty
and he stopped on the other side to let Marc pass first.
Marc grinned and didn't slow his steps. He recognized the
man this time — he was foreman of a crew that was adding
on a building behind the Crown Hotel. He'd heard Mr.
Parker griping that the Crown was adding a fancy eating
restaurant that would steal even his own hotel guests from
his stark, unadorned dining hall.
      So what if Mr. Hunter wasn't her Pa; it wasn't worth
being late to his appointment with Monsieur Benet over.
A mystery with a redheaded girl thrown in was worth a
little time, but nothing was getting in the way of a piano
lesson from a man who'd heard the great Franz Liszt
himself perform. Mr. Benet wasn’t all that great a
musician — truth to tell, he wasn’t as good a teacher as
Miss Minya — but he brought new exercises and songs to
every lesson.
63

    And no telling what he'd bring this time, after a four-
week trip to Charleston.
64

Chapter 8

      Marc walked Louisa home, chafing at the intolerably
slow speed of her steps. It was one thing to walk slow
beside a girl you were hoping to kiss—
      "Cuz, kin I ast you something?"
      "If you'll talk like a white boy instead of a field hand."
      "You got to promise to answer best you can, and no
laughing neither."
      Louisa tilted her head to examine him for a minute.
The suspicion in her eyes was clear, so Marc tried to return
as innocent a look as a clear conscience could project. A
mostly clear conscience.
      "If I do, you have to let me ask you one," she said.
"And if you laugh, or repeat it, or let on one peep that I
asked — I'm telling Uncle about last night."
      "I never will,” he said, crossing his heart. “You go
first."
      "No, you go first," she said, tripping over the board
sidewalk because she was watching his face so closely.
Couldn't blame her; it wouldn't be the first time he'd pulled
a rotten trick..
65

      Marc said, "You read all them romantic books. What
do they tell ya', is the way you know who's the one you're
going to marry?"
      "You're too young to understand," she said, shaking
her head with a sixteen-year-old's superior tolerance.
      "Maybe I am, but tell me anyway, will ya'?"
      "Well...you grow faint, and pale, and...your heart
flutters when your true love comes near," she said,
warming to the subject.
      "Shoot, my heart ain't never gonna flutter. That's fer
girls — how's the man supposed to know?"
      "He just does. I guess he loses heart in sport
and...wait, I remember! Passion burns in his breast at the
thought of being parted. And he fights a duel to defend her
honor."
      "Oh. I'd take on a fist fight, but I ain't gonna die in no
duel for her." He thought it over for a minute. "Guess she
ain’t my true love."
      "Do you think of her day and night?" Louisa teased.
      "Yeah, mostly. And I can't stop looking at her — but
you know what's funny? I can’t stand to listen to her talk!"
      Louisa was laughing, but Marc didn't pay her any
66

attention.
      "Miss Hattie, now — she's older than thirty-five and
won't give me the time of day — she thinks I'm a lap dog
for all she notices —but when I can get her talking, I can
listen to her and look at her all day long. She's got the
beautifullest voice and the bestest stories of any woman in
the world."
      "I think if you were in love with that girl, you'd talk
about her the way you're talking about Miss Hattie," said
Louisa kindly.
      "I reckon," he said, giving it up. Maybe someday
he’d find a girl who looked like Cherry and sounded like
Miss Hattie. "What'cher question?"
      "It's just — remember your promise, no telling —
have you ever kissed a girl?"
      "Yeah," he said, snickering but keeping a polite tone.
“You know I have, you tattletale."
      “Oh, that doesn’t count. That was just the ice man’s
daughter — but have you ever kissed a nice girl?”
      “Sure, but it’s not as much fun.”
      "Honest? How many times?"
      "I could name you three gals you see ever Sunday.”
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      "Who?"
      "Not telling."
      She pursed up her mouth, looking down at the hard
dirt underneath her feet. They'd passed into the shady
suburbs now; haystacks and rice fields were beginning to
appear and Marc could hear the music of lowering cattle at
the very edge of his range. The road was dry enough for
him to walk in the wagon tracks; dried mud crunched
underneath his brown leather shoes, paper-thin at the sole
but well-polished on top.
      "You wouldn't believe me if I did," he added.
      "I guess not. So...what is she supposed to do?"
      "Do?" He raised his eyebrows and stared around the
empty road, searching for inspiration. "She's supposed
to...slap his face, and bust out crying."
      Louisa giggled and shook her head. She ducked a
look over her shoulder and lowered her voice. "But
what...if she wanted him to?"
      "Slap his face and bust out crying," he said,
shrugging.
      "I knew you wouldn't tell me true," she said.
      "I mean it. Slap him — not too hard, okay?" He
68

rubbed his cheek ruefully. "And set into crying, say like
— oh, I don't know what come over me! How could you
ever respect me again?" Raising his voice to an agonizing
pitch, he shrilled, "You looked so handsome, I just couldn't
help myself. Oh, dear!"
      "Then?"
      "Then he 'pologizes — and if he don't, get out’ta there
and let me know about it. When he ‘pologizes, say, 'I
knew I could trust you not to tell anyone! You're so noble.'
And you smile at him and...kin you flutter your eyelashes?
That always works."
      "Has it ever worked on you?"
      "Always," he said, laughing. "Then he kisses you
again."
      "What do I do that time?"
      "Enjoy it. But stop at two—that's more'n enough for a
first time. Especially for Bill Thornton."
      "I ain't talking about him!" Louisa blushed furiously
at the thought. "But what does her hands do — does she
keep them in her lap?"
      "No, put 'em somewhere. Anywhere you want; there
ain't no right nor wrong about it. If he likes you, you can't
69

make no mistakes."
     "Really truly?"
     "Yeah, really,” he said.
     “Except to have a bad voice?”
     “You don’t, thank heavens. Even when you’re being a
no-good nosy tattletale, it’s not a pain to listen to you
talk.”
     “I’ll do it more often, then.”
     “Wait – I didn’t mean that!”
70

Chapter 9

     Marc started whistling as soon as he hit the street.
Monsieur Benet had brought back a wicked book of
velocity exercises and no fewer than four Chopin pieces —
and all of these were tucked under his arm now. There
wouldn’t be time to start them before luncheon — he was
starving already and had two miles of fast walking to get
home. Benet’s house was just around the corner from the
train depot, near downtown.
     He’d played through the concert pieces for Mr. Benet
and there had been no flaws, no ragged edges to smooth.
Of course, he’d known that all along, but Mr. Benet had
grown worried in his two-week stay on the East Coast.
Two of Benet’s lesser students would be opening the
concert, then Marc would play Chopin’s E-flat nocturne.
The world-renowned vocalist Karl Hahn would present a
medley of operatic classics and then at last, Marc would
play a trio of Schubert’s Lieder
     The thought made him skip, but not so high as the
thought of learning the new Chopin pieces this very
afternoon. If he could squeeze out a free moment between
71

playing for the club and getting to the hotel by four
o’clock….
     He caught a movement in peripheral vision and
ducked automatically. Something whizzed by and
exploded on the street — an ashen dry clod of horse
manure.
     Three boys surrounded him, all well dressed and
armed with sneers.
     “Better run, you rat. Run like a dirty coward.”
     “I will if you get out of my way,” said Marc. He
hated to duck out on a fight, but he’d better things to be
doing.
     “Git down and crawl then,” said the biggest one. He
was wearing a wool roundabout coat with matching
trousers and cowskin boots that were polished until they
shone. But his coat struggled to button over a puffy
waistline and his too-white hands looked plump and dainty
beneath cuffed shirtsleeves to his knuckles. He was clearly
not a fighter — Marc would’ve known that even if they
hadn’t exchanged shoves sometime last fall. His name was
Tom something-or-other.
     The other two boys were unknowns. There was
72

nowhere to run to — and no chance to stay where he was.
Tom was the biggest of the three, so Marc rushed him,
hitting him hard in the stomach and knocking the breath
out of him.
      “Told—you—not to come—around—“ the boy
fought for breath as he tried to dodge a trio of well-aimed
punches. Another boy went down in a shower of dirt,
tripped by his partner’s foot as Marc jumped up on Tom’s
shoulders and kneed the other boy in the stomach. Marc
fell, pulling Tom after him — they both thudded to the
ground.
      The other boys circled around, not able to get a clear
opening into the struggle. One of them kicked Marc —
hard, in the ribs — and he lost his grip on the music
papers. With both hands free he aimed a short blow to
Tom’s nose—a hit.
      Seeing Tom sputtering with a bloody nose, Marc
pushed away. Wrenching upright, not waiting to balance,
he ducked a wild swing and tripped up the nearest boy
with a sideways scrape of his shoe.
      The third boy backed off when Marc lunged forward,
so Marc grabbed up his papers and walked away. All three
73

were surprised at the action — he wasn’t running away--
wasn't even walking fast.
     “What are you waiting for? Get him!” hollered Tom.
He stood up off the ground, sprinkling blood around his
immaculate white shirt.
     “I got my good britches on,” said the second boy.
“My mama’d kill me if I come home looking like you.”
     “You’re a coward! Come on, Brent!”
     The two started toward Marc, but Marc had already
switched to a run.
     “Got no time to deal with you girlies right now—“ he
hollered over his shoulder. “I’ll be back!”
     Trailed by epithets, he kept running even after it was
clear that they weren’t catching up to him anytime soon.
He felt like a coward to run away — and it was just asking
for them to try again. But…just possibly he could get in a
half-hour’s practice before luncheon.
     A side-stitch from the kick slowed him down. He
arrived at the barn just in time to meet Uncle Henri’s
buggy, pulling up at the hitching post.
     “Marc, come help me unload this cider,” said Uncle.
“I have six jugs—take care with them and put them all in
74

the kitchen for Susanna to sort after.”
     “Why’d you get all it?”
     “It was going for a song; Mr. Enteros put up too much
and he’s selling if off now to make room for the spring
whitewashing.”
     “Is it hard cider?” said Marc, grinning unconsciously.
     “That it surely is, and you’ll keep your nose out of it
until you’re invited. What’s wrong with your hand?”
     “Dunno,” said Marc, trying to tuck his hand out of
sight around the jug.
     “Blood. And your shirt’s torn, and your jacket’s
covered with dust.”
     “It wasn’t my fault,” began Marc, hanging his head
against the blame surely to fall. “It was those boys from
the Baptist church down next to the depot. They attacked
me— I never did nothing to them.”
     “I’m hoping you live to see your eighteenth birthday,”
said Uncle, shaking his head. “So I can turn you out with
an easy conscience.”
     “Sir—“
     “There’s plenty of work on the sugar plantation for a
boy your size.”
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     “But, Uncle—“ Marc ran out of words and choked,
terror sinking into his bones. The sugar plantation was a
threat that usually stayed unspoken.
     “Is that the only way to keep you out of trouble?”
     “No, Sir.”
     He’d run away before he’d let himself be buried in the
swamps twenty miles from the nearest town. Run away
and live on the streets and — and never touch a decent
piano again.
     But he didn’t want to.
     “Please,” he added, meaning it.
     “Finish your job and change your shirt,” said Uncle,
turning to go inside. “Rub down the team first, and clean
the harness after luncheon; you can remind Joe to leave it
for you.”
     “Yes, Uncle. Thank you, Uncle,” said Marc.

     *

     After a tedious luncheon without even the distraction
of sparring with Cousin Louisa — she was alternately
sighing and simpering over her plate, dreaming of Bill
76

Thornton — Marc hadn’t time to do more than change
clothes before the buggy pulled up out front. Aunt
Marguerite’s buggy was high-polished black wood with a
double-red pinstripe. A hard black top, hinged to fold
back, stood rigidly over their heads to protect her ruffled
white bonnet from the sun. Marc leaned over the side and
drummed his fingers on the wood.
      Cousin Louisa giggled as she climbed in the back
seat.
      “Wild Bill won’t be there,” said Marc over his
shoulder.
      “Shush!” said Louisa, looking at the door for Aunt.
The door was still shut and she leaned forward to whisper
at his neck. “Dolly Vinson will be there. Is she one of the
girls you say you’ve kissed?”
      “Ain’t saying,” he repeated, not turning around. “I
knew I shouldn’t’ve told you.”
      “I know something you don’t know,” she teased. “I’ll
trade you.”
      “No,” he said sullenly.
      “You really want to hear this, I know.”
      “Dadblame it, Louisa, I’m trying to be a gentleman
77

and you keep trying to make me into a…tale teller. That
ain’t nice and you know it.”
      “You can’t be a gentleman anyway,” she said
unkindly.
      “I wish you were a boy — I’d knock you down for
that.” He did turn around then, and fixed her with a look
that made her flinch visibly. No one liked being reminded
they were a bastard, no matter how seldom it happened.
      Eyes winking back tears, she said, “I’m sorry. I
oughtn’t to have said that. I’ll — I’ll tell you my news
anyway.”
      “Tell; I don’t care.” He turned around and resumed
his fingers’ angry drumming. A disjoint series of keys
sounded in his head…A minor, B minor ninth…it
distracted him from the sound of his cousin’s voice until he
came back with a jerk.”
      “So she was almost crying — Mother was, can you
believe it? And asked him not to.”
      “Not to what?”
      “Send you away. And he said it might be the best
thing, for a little while, and she said then to do what he
thought best. Father said he didn’t want to either, but
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things were getting worse and worse and he wondered if it
was the only way.”
     “How’d they end up?”
     “I didn’t dare to listen longer. But he said not now.
Isn’t that good news?”
     “Yeah. Gosh! I don’t want to go.”
     “Let Mother hear you saying that word—“
     “I know, I looked over at the door before I said it.
There she is.”
     “Did you bring your music, dear?” said Aunt, rustling
into the seat beside Louisa.
     “Yes’m,” he said, looking down at the sheaf of papers
in his lap. He’d hidden the new ones at the very end, in
case there was a break in the program. “How long will we
be there?”
     “The meeting is from two thirty to four-thirty, but
you’ll only play for an hour. Then we will have a business
meeting.”
     “Kin — may I leave when I’m done?”
     “Certainly, but didn’t you want to stay and meet
them? And take a cup of coffee with the young ladies?”
     “Well…I needed to stop by the show and talk with
79

Mr. Moon,” Marc lied.
     “Then run along. I know how much that position
means to you,” she said proudly. “Maybe you can have
one in a big production some day — we will all come to
see you!”
     He smiled unconsciously at the innocent pride in her
sweet voice. Aunt’s voice was almost as musical as Miss
Hattie’s and ten times as pleasant to hear.
     It was impossible to say what was in his heart — he
thought it instead, hoping she could read minds. Please
don’t send me away.
80

Chapter 10

     Cherry was waiting in the parlor when he arrived,
nearly ten minutes early. Her eyes toyed with a tiny,
leather-bound book; her feet were drawn back daintily
beneath a wide-spreading brown merino skirt. It was a
pleasant picture against the pink-and-cream striped
wallpaper.
     “Hullo,” he said, sitting on the sofa beside her. The
brown dress was topped with a wide, white collar of spun
lace. And at the very center there was a ribbon cluster of
soft green; it almost matched her hazel eyes.
     Her red lips pursed into a pout. “Is it four already? I
hadn’t expected you so soon.”
     Marc smiled in return and was gratified to see the
pout vanish into an answering smile. He’d learned long
ago the power of his smile — it seemed ordinary to
observe in the mirror but he’d never seen it fail to elicit a
flush on the face of ladies.
     “Couldn’t keep away,” he said, drawing nearer to her
on the divan.
     “Oh, you mustn’t!” she said, giggling. The
81

disharmony made his teeth ache.
     Standing up, he flourished his cap and bowed.
“Where may I bear you? Or can I stay here and stare into
your sweet green eyes?”
     “You can bear me to the drugstore, Sir,” she said, still
giggling. Marc began to wish he was anywhere but there
—most of all back home at the baby grand piano.
     He followed her out and led her wearily down
afternoon-bright streets, the sun squinting sideways
through three and four-story buildings. The drugstore was
squat, with only a single set of curtained windows above
the glassed-in storefront. Marc followed her inside and
dozed, admiring the swish of her skirt below a pencil-thin
waist.
     “How darling! But I don’t really need them,” she
said, admiring a tray of ivory-topped hairpins and glancing
at Marc.
     He pretended not to see her and so failed to take the
hint, so she went up to the druggist and placed her order
for acid boracic and a Comstock syringe
     “Could you possibly take me to the post office?” she
asked, smiling under her brown straw hat brim. It
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shadowed her face in a constantly change of angles that
seemed like a flirtation of perspective. It kept you looking
back for a different view.
     Marc grinned back, regaining interest now that she
wasn’t talking or making that hideous giggling sound.
Taking her parcels, he held out an arm for her to lean on
and they promenaded grandly down the wide avenue.
     The streetcar hadn’t come to Fremont Street yet, so
the only noise was the staid clap-clop of horses’ hooves.
People went by with an unconscious smile at the sweet
young couple; Marc saw a boy he knew and waved at him,
gratified to see the head jerk around in envious stares.
     The post office was on the other side of a broad
square, decorated with statues and the green leather leaves
of magnolias. A few flowers had ventured to bloom early,
but they drew back now in the chill breeze. Cherry
snuggled closer to his arm.
     “Where now?” he said, when the post office was
done.
     “I am just a bit thirsty after such a long walk,” she
said, tilting that hat again.
     Marc winced. “I’m sorry. Them beers I bought the
83

other night — so I could see you today — robbed my
pockets till payday. But wait — got a idea. Walk with me
down to the stage — right next to your hotel — and we’ll
get a cup of coffee in the manager’s office. Show’s closed
up today.”
     “But we can’t just go in—“
     “Sure we can. I’m part of the company.”
     “If you’re sure,” she said doubtfully. “I was about to
think that I would have to find me an escort with pocket
change.”
     “You can do that.”
     “Maybe I will!”
     “Go ahead, but I betcha won’t find one who wrote a
song for you.”
     “Did you really?” she said, softening her pout.
     “Sure. Play it for you, when we get there.”
     “We’ll just see,” she said, tossing her head. He
decided that it was that combination of spirit and pensive
sighs that made her face so irresistible. But she didn’t
seem to have much to talk about — why?
     “Bet you think this is a pretty big town,” said Marc.
‘Ever been anywhere like this before?”
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     “I have! Philadelphia was where we was before this.
Then we worked out of Richmond, Charleston, and
Atlanta. Philadelphia’s a whole lot bigger than this.”
     “Maybe, but Paris is bigger than any of ‘em.”
     “You mean….France?”
     “Where I grew up. Back stage at the Opera Royale.”
     “Why are you here?”
     “They sent me over here after my Mother…was sick.”
     “Oh! Then you’re one of us too?”
     “Us, what?”
     “Orphans that came over as emigrants, with our wages
to pay our way!”
     “Lordy, no! I’m living with my Aunt and Uncle. So,
that means Mr. Hunter isn’t really your Pa?”
     “Him?” The derision in her tinny voice made his skin
crawl. “He only bought my note. I’ll be shet of him real
soon now.”
     With a real emotion in her face, her voice deepened
and the sound made Marc smile in admiration. Her voice
sounded real — and alive — for the first time since he’d
heard it. Maybe what he was about to do would be worth
what he was about to get.
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      “Here we are,” he said, leading her around to the
back. Looking both ways down the narrow alley, he raised
a window and climbed over the windowsill, landing softly
on the inside.
      “I thought you were supposed to be here!” she hissed.
      “Wait on. Manager’s too cheap to give us all keys, so
he just hides one in the entry. I’ll let you in.”
      Marc walked quietly to the door, extricated the long
iron key from atop the door facing, and opened the lock. It
locked from both sides with the same key, so he let her in
and re-locked it carefully.
      It was chilly inside and absolutely silent. Cherry’s
face went forlorn again and her thin shoulders hunched
against the chill.
      Marc put an arm around them and she didn’t shrug it
off. He felt a hundred degrees warmer in a second, but he
just led her into the manager’s office and sat her in a chair
in front of the stove..
      “I’ll start us up a little fire,” he said, stuffing the stove
with paper and adding a small forest of kindling.
      Cherry stared, awestruck. “I never built a fire
myself,” she admitted.
86

     “Where you been? I mean, where’d you come from.”
     “England, near London. I had three sisters and they
sent us all over here when I was nine. When did you come
over?”
     “Ten.”
     “First we worked at a school, doing laundry and
cleaning. We was supposed to go to classes but mostly we
didn’t. Then the man sold my paper to Mr. Hunter and I
went to clean house for his wife. I still write to my sisters;
that was them I was posting a letter to.”
     “Where are they?” said Marc, shoveling on a hod full
of coal. He sat beside her and rubbed grubby hands on his
pants legs.
     Cherry giggled. “You better wash your hands if
you’re planning on kissing me.”
     “I ain’t. I’m planning on you kissing me,” he retorted.
     “Shh!” she said, turning away with her cheeks as red
as her fingers, outstretched to the blaze.
     “So how’d you come to be traveling with him?” asked
Marc.
     “Oh, his business wasn’t going so good, so he took to
doing the drummer, you know. He’s like a part of a owner
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of a factory. Then he signed on with a big tobacco
company in Virginia to sell cigars and pipe leaf.”
     “And you help him along?”
     “No — but — I pay my way. He brought me
traveling because…because his wife and I didn’t get along
much. I’m not much good as a housekeeper.”
     “I’ll fix us a cup of coffee.” Marc put a kettle of
water on — it had been standing ready for the manager’s
arrival next morning. There didn’t appear to be any coffee
beans on the little caddy behind the stove; all he could find
was tea.
     “Okay, tea then. So how do you pay your way?”
     “You ain’t got no reason to be asking that!” she said,
eyes filling up with tears.
     “I’m sorry — I thought maybe you sold cigars or
something —“
     “No — and it’s none of your business!” She winked
back the trickle of tears and tossed her head.
     “Nothing wrong with working,” he said kindly,
shaking up the kettle to heat it faster.
     “He calls it working but it ain’t — it’s stealing, that’s
what it is! He’s been spying around and figuring out
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which rooms are filled in the hotels, and sending me in to
rob them! He says if — if I get caught, they’ll go easy on
me because I’m so pretty and — I hate it!” Tears were
streaking down her cheeks and the waterworks appeared
unleashed — not having a handkerchief, Marc handed her
a tea towel and patted her shoulder.
      “Why don’t you run away?” he said, trying to distract
her.
      “I can’t. I’ll get caught and put in jail.”
      “Shoot, Cherry! What he’d doing is against the law.”
      “I know but…I just don’t know how to run away. He
ain’t such a bad man — didn’t use to be — but I think he’s
getting greedy. Once it was two rooms at the same hotel.”
      “Run away. There’s plenty of places to run to — he
ain’t going to find you. Go to your sisters.”
      “I haven’t any money. He gives me plenty — to buy
little things with — but not anything big to buy a railroad
ticket with. And he’d find me with my sisters first thing.”
      Marc scratched his head violently. It seemed like
such an easy thing to him — how could she have so little
gumption not to see all the thousands of escapes in front of
her, every day? He made a pot of tea and set it on a stool
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to brew.
      “Wish I could help you,” he said, half out loud.
      “Oh! Would you?” She threw her arms around him
and kissed him violently.
      “No. But I did get you to kiss me.” He grinned
wickedly and returned the kiss, trying to maneuver across
the arms of a stout wooden chair to get his chest close to
hers.
      “Please, you will?” she said, keeping her arms around
his shoulders and letting her heaving chest just graze his
coat front. It was distracting, to say the least.
      “I can’t,” said Marc, backing off reluctantly. He had
to keep his head clear — for once. “I’m on pro — what
‘cha callit? I’m almost about to get kicked out myself. If I
get caught messing with you, I’ll be cutting cane till my
beard starts growing. You don’t know what you’re asking
— I can’t.”
      She put her head down on a hand and sniffed, staring
at the stove with an expression that would have melted
many a stronger heart.
      “Maybe — I could help you come up with a plan.”
      “I knew you would, Marc Corbeau!” She smiled with
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a dazzle of crooked white teeth — it was a real smile, not
the fake, closed-mouth grin she’d been favoring him with.
     “Let me think then. But I’m telling you — if I get
caught helping you — I’m goners!”
     He poured out tea and took a sip, meditatively. It
burned his mouth.
     “Are you going to do a burglary tonight?”
     “Yes, that man you saw this morning. He’d buying
cigars for a bunch of hotels, and he should have a big
purse.”
     “Do you know if he lives here or where?”
     “He lives in Chicago. He’s a traveling man just like
Mr. Hunter.”
     “Do you know when he’s leaving? Can you find
out?”
     “I think he’s leaving tomorrow. I don’t pay attention
to their jabbering!”
     “Too soon — shoot. Are you serious about running
away?”
     “I am,” she insisted, hanging on his arm. He put
down the scalding cup of tea.
     “Then do this. When you go to supper, find out
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exactly when he’s leaving. When you go to his room? ”
      “After supper. Mr. Hunter is going to take him to the
tavern and give me an hour to do it.”
      “Take something personal of yours, like a
handkerchief, or a comb or something, and hide it in his
room. Something Mr. Hunter would recognize.”
      She was gaping, not understanding at all. Marc hid a
little groan.
      “Look, you’re going to make believe you run off with
him. You’ll disappear one-half hour before his train
leaves. You’ll leave behind something in his room — I got
it better! Leave a note from him to you, tied up in a
handkerchief, in your room. Push it behind a curtain or
something, on the floor like it dropped there.”
      “I — can’t.”
      “You want out of this or not? Just do it — look, I’ll
write a note — let me get some paper.” Marc jumped up
and rummaged in the manager’s desk, pulling out pen and
ink and a torn scrap of paper.
      “Meet — me — at — the — depot at — dunno. I will
wait for you just behind the ticket desk at the luggage
station. Do not delay and we will soon be safely away.
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Do you know his first name?”
     “No,” said Cherry, worrying her lower lip with a
tooth.
     “Ok, just Slaughter then and I’ll tear it here — and
here — like it was torn up and that will cover up the fact
that we don’t know the time yet or even his full name.
Now, this one you’ll leave in your room, just beside the
wastebasket.”
     “There isn’t any.”
     “Well, somewhere! Under your pillow?”
     “Okay,” she said timidly.
     “Get up here and write another, saying…something
about a kind rescuer. You better word it; that’ll sound
more real.”
     “I don’t understand, said Cherry, looking at the pen
like she’d never seen one before.
     “Mr. Slaughter has just asked you to run away with
him. You write him a note — go ahead, write it — saying
thanks and you’ll be there. Just a line — say, ‘I will be
there, please wait for me,’ and sign your name. Now this
one you will leave in his room, carelessly tossed in a
corner up under a curtain where it won’t be seen until they
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come to clean the room. Leave it and a handkerchief and
— what else do you have?”
      “There’s my bead necklace—Mr. Hunter gave it to
me.”
      “Great, leave it too. Now when you find out what
time he’s leaving tomorrow, you need to figure out a way
to sneak out a hour before then. If you can pack a small
bag fine; if not, that’s all right too. Could you possibly
pack a small bag tonight and hide it outside somewhere
where I could get it for you?”
      “I don’t see how!”
      “No,” he said, groaning. “And I don’t see how I can
get out of being there to help you. What time do you go to
supper tonight?”
      She told him, and Marc thanked the stars there was no
show that night. He could hopefully, possibly, be there to
shadow her.
      A subtle thump of steps sounded from the hall.
“Quick—“
      There was no place to hide. And no way to hide the
fire in the stove, still red-hot from the excess of kindling.
Marc crowded his chair next to the girl’s, leaned close and
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wrapped his arms around her, posing for a kiss.
      He kept his vision clear over her shoulder. It was
probably just Mr. Pitman; but no matter what it looked
like, it was better to look like he was sparking than to look
like he was stealing.
      The door flew open, slamming back against the facing
wall. Marc felt the girl tremble beneath his arm —
      It was Pitman, red-faced under a day-off stubble of
beard.
      “How many times have you done this?” he growled.
      “Always,” Marc replied, hanging his head. “I paid
back for the coal ever time.”
      “This will be the last. Get out. If I ever catch you
around here again you’ll see the inside of a jail before
you’re twenty-one.”
      “You never will,” said Marc cautiously, putting back
the teacups and breaking up the coals in the fire.
      “Consider yourself fired too.”
      “Sir!” he looked up, startled.
      “You’re a thieving bastard — I always knew it. Take
your little fancy girl and get.”
      “Sir, you know I ain’t. I only used your office to get
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warm—“
       “It was my fault,” said Cherry.
       Marc hid a grin — she’d finally showed the spunk
he’d suspected her capable of.
       “He only did it…because I was cold,” she added, with
a heart-wrenching smile.
       It was lost on Mr. Pitman. He dealt in pretty girls —
and had a lifetime’s immunity to pitiful smiles.
       “I’ll pay for the coal,” she said, pulling her purse out
of a pocket.
       “Dollar will do it,” said Pitman, glancing at Marc.
The look was more of a sneer — Cherry started scrabbling
around in her purse, trying to scrape out a dollar in change.
       “That wadn’t five cents worth of coal and only a
pimping whoremaster would take a girl’s money.” Marc
stepped between Cherry and the man, hands balling into
fists.
       Pitman swung without warning. Marc sidestepped a
fast jab to the face. Looking over his shoulder at Cherry,
he yelled, “Run!”
       It was a bad move to take his eyes off the opponent.
The man’s left hand followed up the right and Marc was
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hit on the cheek so hard it made his vision blank out. He
struggled, trying to clear his head, staggering backward.
      Movement — he reacted on instinct, ducking low and
driving his head forward to butt the taller man’s stomach.
He launched a punch upward and hit the man’s left fist,
knuckle to knuckle. The crash jarred his arm to the bone.
      Marc crunched vicious heels on the man’s instep and
then jumped backward, blinking violently to clear his
vision. He tried a punch and found his right arm useless
— numb.
      Pitman hit again — Marc dodged sideways and only
took a glancing blow to the same left cheek. He jammed
his left hand at Pitman’s face, feinting, and kicked hard at
the knee.
      He missed and fell, off balance. Pitman started a kick
of his own. Marc rolled and grabbed the man’s other leg.
He was shook off like a dog and jumped up again, backing
into the two chairs and sending them crashing.
      Pitman swung again — the same right-left pattern.
Marc knew it by then — he deflected the right fist off and
took the left on a stomach that was tensed and ready — he
hardly felt it. He hit with his left fist and at last felt the
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knuckles make contact with flesh — it was a good feeling.
Pitman backed off, getting a better angle.
       When Pitman moved forward again Marc dodged
under his arm and hit him square in the stomach.
     Pitman doubled over, winded.
     “What — burglars —“ gasped a female voice.
     Marc moved toward the voice and panted for breath.
A girl no older than Cherry was standing in the doorway,
waving a lace-flowered handkerchief over a fainting
bosom.
     “Not at all, ma’am,” said Marc. “I was just being
fired,” he added, winking.
     “Oh!” she gasped, losing her faked alarm. She smiled
back, tentatively.
     “Better be getting along,” he said as Pitman recovered
his wind and started toward him.
     He ran out the door, confident that the young lady
would delay pursuit.
     Cherry rushed up. “Oh, Marc! You were so noble!”
     “I was, wasn’t I?” he said, eating up the praise.
     She put both hands on his arm and beamed up at him.
Being short, it wasn’t often that he had the pleasure of
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being looked up to.
     “Go on back to your room, is it time? Do you still
have the papers?”
     “Yes, right here,” she said, clutching them furiously.
She smiled back with dimples so deep it was like stars —
and her eyes were as bright as a cat’s caught in the
lamplight. “You will help me!”
     “I’ll try and catch you when you go down to dinner.
Are you sure it’s in this hotel?”
     “I suppose,” she said, face falling with worry. He
walked away quickly, not daring to look back and see
delay.
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Chapter 11

      “Joe, how bad does it look? Tell me really.”
      “Looks like you been in a fight. That’s the long and
short of it,” said Curly Joe.
      “I can’t think of a lie,” said Marc, sitting down on the
floor and resting his head on his hands. “My head still
hurts, and my side hurts, and my da—“
      “Don’e say it!”
      “Dashed right arm hurts. I got no feeling in my
fingers still.”
      Marc thought hard, trying to come up with a real
excuse. “Maybe I fell off a ladder, helping the stage men
fly flats.”
      “Looks like you been in a fight.”
      “Maybe I—“ Marc stopped, and pressed his hands
harder against the throbbing in his temples.
      Therese chose that moment to ring the bell for supper.
He stood up and trudged toward the washstand in the
corner of the kitchen. Moving, the pain seemed to lessen
instead of strengthen, and Marc took heart in the feeling.
      He caught Uncle Henri just outside of the dining
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room. Having tried every tactic in the world — lies,
excuses, and downright fabrications — he decided to try
the truth. It wasn’t going to get any worse than this.
      “Uncle, I been in a fight.”
      “It looks like it.” Uncle Henri stopped and turned to
regard him, foot poised to cross over the threshold. “Why
don’t you sit out dinner so I don’t have to listen to more
lame excuses?”
      “Thank you, Sir. Can I go down to the kitchen?”
      “Yes, please.”
      Marc drooped down, forcing himself to eat what the
cook put on a plate for him — the dry part of the roast on
the top and the heel of a loaf of last week’s bread. She
thumped it down before him and turned her back, stirring a
pot of corn with an ear-wrenching scrape of spoon against
enamel.
      Savanna came in and gasped.
      “Lordy! What did you do?”
      Marc smiled and looked down at his plate. It took too
much energy to flirt right then. And sympathy — no
matter how much he appreciated it — wouldn’t be allowed
under cook’s close supervision.
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     “Girl! Put that roast on the platter and get it out.
Shouldn’t take you an hour to serve up a bowl of soup.”
     Savanna put the platter in front of his plate, smiling
across the table as she centered the roast and decorated it
with sprigs of feathered carrot. With cook’s back still
turned, she trimmed off another slice for him and slipped it
onto his plate.
     He returned a grin — and winced, feeling his cheek.
Even eating made it hurt, but he needed something to get
him through the evening ahead. He’d need more on the
morrow. Uncle’s easy dismissal could only mean one
thing; and most likely, he’d be on a train to oblivion
tomorrow.
     And it wasn’t a thing that needed thinking about. He
crammed down the dry bread without butter and finished
the slice of beef quickly. Rummaging in the cupboard he
found a quarter of a buttermilk pie and ate that too. Cook
took no notice.
     Feeling was coming back in his right hand — feeling
and with it, pain. He gulped down a glass of water and
strode down the hall to the piano, lighting a candle lantern
in the dim drawing room.
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     It was glorious to play, even one-handed. He worked
for an hour, learning the Chopin as well as he could
without full range in ten fingers. When it was sounding
perfect, even through the pain, he remembered the time
and jumped up to check a clock.
     The door he’d carefully closed behind him was
standing wide open now, letting the sound flow easily into
the parlor just opposite. Aunt and Uncle sat in the parlor
of an evening; they had often encouraged him to leave the
door open so they could listen to the music. He’d shut it
that night in a feeling of disgrace…but someone had
opened it behind his back.
     The clock read seven. It was time to be leaving…
maybe for the last time if he were caught again. The
thought hurt.

      *

      He’d found out the number of Mr. Slaughter’s room,
so it was easy enough to slip in through the cleaning
crew’s entrance and find a watching spot in view of the
door. He sauntered past first and listened at the keyhole.
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It was noisy enough inside—he couldn’t tell if Cherry had
been there or not, yet, but it was certainly not empty.
      He hid in the shadows at the end of the hall. The
hiding place couldn’t be better—on the second-floor
landing of a three-floor staircase. Plenty of room to move
up or down, out of sight if anyone came.
      Sitting on the stairs, he struggled to stay awake. By
staying still enough, he could catch the glimpse of mice
scurrying in the shadows. Like ghosts of friends from the
past…the only one he had a hope of ever seeing again was
Renny. Renny was his absolute best friend in the world.
      Only a few hours away, out on the sugar plantation…
Renny’d be sure to have a dozen new songs to show off
and a watermelon to share…no, not in the spring, dummy.
No watermelon in the spring. Maybe a pan of sunfish,
fresh from the river and fried crisp in cornmeal….
      An interminable interval passed, with the stillness
broken only by a single person climbing to the third floor.
Marc was dozing off when Slaughter’s door burst open and
Cherry shuffled out, limping down the hall to the opposite
stairs.
      He jumped up and catfooted behind her, catching up
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with a whispered hiss. She jerked around at the noise.
      “Don’t look at me!” she said, blinking hard. Her face
puckered up and she scurried away, hunched over and
keeping her face turned to the side.
      Marc caught up and put an arm around her shoulders,
leading her back to the staircase at the dark end of the hall.
      “Did you get caught?” he said. Her painfully
suppressed tears showed signs of letting loose but he was
hoping to distract her with words.
      She let out a single sniff, keeping her face resolutely
turned away.
      “Still determined to get out?”
      “Yes!” she hissed, so loud that Marc put a hand over
her mouth.
      “Did you leave the clues?”
      “No—“
      Marc couldn’t hide a groan.
      “I didn’t get a chance. I don’t think Mr. Hunter took
him to the bar at all! I think he did this a-purpose —
telling that awful old man I was going to be sneaking in
there!”
      “I’ll do it,” he said, squeezing her shoulders. “Do you
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have it with you? What was he like when you left?”
      “Asleep, the old mug,” she said, handing over the
note, the necklace and a flowered handkerchief. Her
cheeks were streaked with tears and grease, shiny without
their usual dusting of powder. “He was snoring when I
left.”
      “Well why didn’t you—“ Marc bit his tongue. Her
shoulders had started shaking again.
      He looked at the door. Looked back. If this went
wrong…
      It couldn’t.
      “Had he been drinking at all?” Marc asked, delaying
the inevitable.
      “Yes, a lot.”
      “Okay, now you go to the top of those stairs and wait
for me — wait right there, d’ya hear? Elsewise you’ll
never get out of this.”
      Cherry nodded and scurried up the stairs, feet
chattering on the worn carpeting of the hall. Every muscle
tensed for flight, Marc walked over to the door and turned
the handle.
      He had to force himself not to twist it too slowly. If
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she were wrong — if the man were watching it turn—
      It had to look like an accident. He opened it a crack
with no telltale creaking. The room was filled with
snoring. Loud, too — he almost whooped with relief. He
was in the door in seconds and blessed Cherry’s haste.
She’d even left the gas light burning.
      Had she found out the time he was leaving? Marc had
forgotten to ask, so he rummaged through the papers on
the desk. There was nothing. Checking the man’s coat for
a pocketbook — what a time to be caught that was — he
pulled out a leather notecase with a blessed scrap of brown
manila inside. The return half of a round-trip train ticket,
stamped for departure at eleven a.m.
      No better luck that this. He’d hidden the evidence
and was opening the door again when a voice sounded in
the hall. He eased the door shut and listened, waiting for
footsteps to pass on by. Waiting an eternity — but the
snoring drowned out any outside noises and he had no idea
if the voices had gone or were waiting just outside.
      Marc snuck back to the light and turned it down. It
was better to peep out the door without a backlight. When
he pressed his ear up against the crack, there was still a
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sprinkling of voices — somewhere.
     It was impossible to hear over the noise inside the
room. Minutes stretched out until he was sure Cherry
would have given up the wait. Feeling frantic, Marc
picked up a shoe and tossed onto the snoring man’s
stomach.
     Grunt. The body shifted slightly and for a second
there was silence.
     It was long enough to tell him that the voices were not
in the hall — they were probably in an adjoining room.
     “Damn paper-mache walls,” he muttered. He slipped
out of the room, cringing at the door’s loud creak. He
dared not run but he covered three stairs at a time,
bounding up.
     Cherry was crammed back against a wall, still
shivering with unshed tears.
     “All done,” he said, feeling lightheaded. “Now I want
you to pack up a small bag of things you’ll need, stuff that
you can pack without them being missed. Can you do
that? Will he be there now?”
     She shook her head, barely meeting his eyes.
     “Pack it up and drop it out the window. I’ll be
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waiting just below. Now, his train leaves—“
     “Eleven o’clock!” she said.
     “Hurray, you found that out. Yes, so can you sneak
out at ten? Meet me directly at the end of this street, under
the big bank’s clock tower. I’ll be there.”
     “So will I,” she replied, raising her chin a trifle.
Something — you might have called it hope — was
lightening her drooping brown eyelashes.
     “Don’t forget to plant the note,” he said.
     He tiptoed downstairs and stepped out in the alley,
skulking in the shadows. But it only took five slow rounds
pacing down and up the alley, before a window went up
overhead and a shadowed head leaned out.
     “Remember—tomorrow—ten o’clock—right—there,”
he hissed, pointing.
     She dropped the bag on his head and giggled.
Waving a salute, Marc trotted away and slowed his steps
as soon as he rounded the corner.
     He didn’t have any real plan, beyond getting her free.
To take her to grandmother’s was going to cost a lot of
money, and he needed to wait around here for at least a
day in case he were suspected. It was best if he were
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suspected — it would be a perfect chance to throw old man
Hunter off the track.
    He headed for home with a short stop-off to stow the
bag. There was only one honest way to get that much
money, but it would take him all night to get ready for it.
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Chapter 12

     Sand…sand in his eyelids. Marc stood up to take a
turn around the room, walking off the sleep. He cranked
up the wick in the kerosene lamp and sat down at the piano
again.
     Aunt came in, trailing a foot of lace-trimmed night
robe behind her ghost-silent steps. Her hair braid made a
black exclamation point down the white cotton back.
     “Why so late, darling?” she asked.
     “I wanted to finish some songs, for Mr. Moon.”
     She flipped through the pages, all carefully marked
with tiny, perfect notes. Some had words pencilled in a
minute script; some were written in parts for an orchestra.
     “Aren’t these your stage show songs that you’ve been
working on so long?”
     “Yes,” he said, smiling at his favorite audience. She
stroked his head in the lamplight and he felt the fog of
sleep disperse.
     “It makes us proud — you work so hard and long, and
nobody makes you do this, or do it so perfectly. But I
thought you hadn’t planned to give this to him until it was
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done?”
     “Well…I was just giving him a sample. I wanted to
get his opinion,” Marc said heavily.
     He hadn’t planned on giving these to Moon at all —
they were better than that. A complete opera handwritten
in parts…and now the parts were chopped and split and
mutilated into catchy little vaudeville tunes.
     “This looks like Louisa’s handwriting!” Aunt
exclaimed.
     “She helped me out with the words, there. She’s got a
knack,” he said.
     Aunt Marguerite smiled so beautifully it took his
breath away. Giving him a small hug, she headed toward
the door. “Don’t work too much later, please?”
     “I’m almost through,” he said, distracted at the beauty
of her face as it disappeared into the shadow.
     “I’ll write more,” he muttered, counting the pages and
pulling out a fresh sheet of paper. Adding Cherry’s song
would make it a round eight, and that song was the only
one he was prepared to give away.
     Wish he could give her away as easily.
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      *

     Uncle’s voice came up the stairs after four hours of
blessed oblivion. Marc fell out of bed with a clunk.
     Sitting on the hard floor…didn’t make any sense.
Wasn’t there something he was supposed to be doing?
     “Are you awake up there? Are you there?”
     A sudden haste in Uncle’s voice stirred him into
speech. “Just getting dressed,” he called back.
     Marc pulled on the grimy clothes from yesterday and
staggered down the back stairs to the barn. It wasn’t dawn
yet and the air felt dense and chill. He stepped into the
lamp-lit tack room and shut the door gratefully behind him.
The burning lamp seemed to make it warmer.
     “Curly, quit fawning over that hoss and come tell me
what to do.”
     “Ain’t started yet. Do whatever you’ve a mind to.”
     “Is her ankle going to be healed up enough for the
racing trials in April?” he asked, taking up a fork and
going into the first of the line of ten stalls. He’d leave the
watering to last and maybe Curly Joe’d be ready to help by
then. It wasn’t ever any fun getting splashed by the pump
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in pre-dawn air.
     “She’s ready now. Needs a slow exercise for a
week.”
     “Can I drive her in the trial?” Marc asked this eagerly
— then realized he probably wouldn’t be there to do it.
The darkness in the corners seemed to deepen as the
memory of what he’d planned — and expected — draped
back over his shoulders like a heavy shawl.
     Joe gave a sharp snort. “This little lady ain’t going to
be driven like no cart horse. Almost give me heart failure
when you took Waller in the New Year’s run and you’re
thinking I be big enough fool to let you try again? Ole
Waller had the sense to pull back when you commenced to
sending him through that hole that wadn’t big enough for
yer sulky — he knew it wadn’t, dunno why you didn’t
know it.”
     “They would’ve moved back.”
     “Maybe — ‘coz they drivers had the sense to value
they necks. You too reckless and tha’s all I’m saying.”
     After a long spell of silence during which Marc
worked slower and slower, trying to wait out the
inevitable, Curly Joe came out of the stall and started
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measuring out oats. Marc tossed his fork into the loft and
stood ready to carry the pails.
      “You forgetting something?” asked Joe.
      “Waiting for you to pump up.”
      “You pump, I lead,” said Joe.
      “How old are you, old man?”
      “I’m about thirty, I reckon. Don’t know exactly.”
      “Why don’t ‘cha get married so you won’t be such a
grump?”
      He didn’t answer. After a minute of standing idle,
Marc grew restless enough to go on outside. He dumped
out the trough, splattering his feet and legs thoroughly,
then threw himself on the pump handle. It took all his
weight to make the first stroke count — the thing seemed
to freeze up with rust overnight.
      He started to sing in time.
      John Henry was—
      It was easy to make his voice deep in the mornings.
Deep enough for this song, even. He could never expect
his mid-tenor voice to change to bass — Moon had said so,
and that sort of thing was Moon’s business. Good enough
— he didn’t want to sing in the opera anyway.
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      He wanted to write. To write the music for a whole
complete orchestra — twenty-two violins and six bass and
even a stray piccolo if the song depended on it. He went to
every orchestra performance the city provided —
Grandmother paid for it—
      And out in the cane fields, there wouldn’t be any.
      Joe came out of the barn, leading a struggling year-old
colt on each of his wiry arms.
      “Miz Sallie’s got her eye on you,” said Marc, trying to
distract himself from the depressing thoughts.
      “She kin keep her eyes to herself.”
      “Bet she’d make a fine little curly-haired son, so
you’d be a pair.”
      “She too old for that. She’s already had four and
Savanna’s the youngest.”
      “Huh! You want me to find out? I bet she ain’t even
forty. I like ‘em older, myself.”
      “If you do, how come you’re sparking with little
Savanna?”
      “She ain’t little; she’s older than me,” said Marc,
startled. “Ain’t there nothing your nosy eyes don’t see?”
      Joe gave a smug smile. “She ain’t old ‘nuff to know
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better, neither.” He led the colts back into the barn, and
Marc resumed his song.
     Savanna came out of the back door of the kitchen to
get a armload of wood. She stopped still, listening to him
sing, but he didn’t notice.
     Joe came back out with another pair of horses.
     “Git along, girl,” he hollered. The kitchen door
slammed, breaking Marc’s concentration on the song.
     “I can’t order you,” Joe said slowly. “But I can ask
you. Leave her be.”
     “I hadn’t done anything,” protested Marc.
     “But you would, wouldn’t you? If you got half a
chance.”
     “Yeah, but that don’t mean I did. Anyway, what’s it
to you? You sweet on her?”
     “No, but that don’t mean I want to see her ruined
either. She’s a good girl and ought to stay that way.”
     “It ain’t gone to ruin her—“
     “If she had a baby — a white boy’s baby — you think
that ain’t going to break her mama’s heart?”
     Marc considered the matter a minute, not happy with
the conclusion it led to. “Dang it, Joe. I ain’t going to get
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far with a conscience.”
     “You ain’t going to live long ‘thout one.” Joe led the
horses back and returned with his new filly, leading her as
tenderly as a baby’s carriage. “…rate you’re going,” he
continued.
     “I’ll try my hardest and that’s all I’m promising,” said
Marc, cramming his ice-cold hands into his jacket sleeves.
“It sounds like you…feel kind'a fatherly toward the girl,
don’t you? Kind of step fatherly?”
     “That’s my business,” said Joe, not flicking an eyelid.
     “I’ll find out what Miz Sallie's thinking,” Marc
promised.
     “You going to stand there all day or get a move on? I
got bizniss to ‘tend to.”
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Chapter 13

      After a wash up and a change to clean clothes, Marc
sat through a silent breakfast and felt like he was
suffocating. Uncle still hadn’t talked to him about the
fight the day before. He didn’t want to talk anyway; he
was too busy thinking about what he was going to do.
Aunt talked to Louisa while Uncle read the newspaper —
his prerogative as the head of the household.
      It was still early when Marc trotted down to the
theater and took up a position in sight of the door. Moon
always went in before eight-thirty to take his morning
coffee at the management’s expense.
      All of this waiting…he hated waiting. Maybe it was
almost over.
      An unusual cold snap had dropped the thermometer to
forty-five overnight and the alley was chilly with morning.
Sun lit the sky overhead but it never penetrated down there
behind the buildings. Marc hunched closer and closer,
trying to close heat into his body.
      People walked by, bundled in their light coats with
collars pulled up over their ears. Men went to work with
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their hands tucked in pockets…feet trampling by seemed a
constant tick-tock of the world waking up.
     When Moon walked up he almost didn’t see him.
     “Wait! Sir!”
     “What’cher?” said Moon, confounded.
     “Mr. Pitman’s a little off on me, so I’m going to lay
low for a while. But I’m going to give you first bid on
these new songs.” Marc held up the music, keeping it
close to his chest but riffling the pages temptingly.
     “Hand ‘em over then,” said Moon. He was itching to
get to his coffee. Away from his usual props of stage and
sheet music, he seemed diminished and weak. He was
almost shaking from the cold in a threadbare topcoat.
     “Nine dollars buys the lot of them. They’re worth a
lot more.”
      “How many songs?”
     “Eight.”
     “That ain’t the way it works, boy. You know how the
money goes.”
     “I ain’t got time to wait. You buy ‘em now, or I take
‘em next door.
     Moon waited, running his hand under his hat to
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smooth the uneven fluff back and down. He seated the hat
precisely and shifted position, looking longingly toward
the building’s back door.
     “Come on in and play them for me,” he said heavily,
turning away.
     “Can’t. Pitman’s—“
     “Sound’s like you’re in need of money real bad so
you scribbled up some scraps and are expecting to bilk me
for the fee and then run out before I can collect a piece of
your hide. I’m not stupid, kid. Sell it to the army.”
     “I’m not stupid either. You know where I live; you
know I ain’t so big a fool to sell you nothing. I’m in a
hurry — I admit it — and I’m offering them to you
because I like you and I always respected you as a fair
dealer and no slouch of a music director, neither.”
     Moon’s hand reached to his pocket, then smoothed
down the lapel nervously, trying to make it look like an
accident.
     “Look, I’ll go you one better,” said Marc. “I’ll give
you the first page of all of ‘em and you go inside and play
‘em. Come back out in ten minutes with the money or the
music. If I don’t see you in ten minutes…I’ll be seeing
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you.”
    The threat in his voice carried well in the chill air.
Moon almost winced…but he didn’t walk away.
    Marc hurried, thumbing out the first pages.
    Moon snatched them away. “Twenty minutes—“
    “Ten!”
    “I have to thaw out my fingers,” he said over his
shoulder.

      *

     Marc wandered the streets, feeling like he was saying
goodbye. On a normal morning he would have been at the
stage piano, practicing whatever he pleased until needed
for a rehearsal. Every pretty girl passing by would give
him a smile. Miss Hattie might come by, pat him on the
cheek and ask him to rehearse her latest showstopper.
     He tripped over a brick, shutting off that daydream.
His feet had wandered back to the hotel.
     There wasn’t time to walk down to Miss Minya’s
house — she would have given him a cup of coffee, at
least. He went back out behind the hotel and waited.
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      It had to have been twenty minutes. The sun was high
and he’d found a warm spot to sit in, drumming his heels
on the pavement as he watched the people go in. They all
had jobs — if Moon didn’t come back out he could start
begging for pocket change from them.
      Moon came to the doorway and stood, squinting
around. Marc was on his feet in a second.
      “I heard from Mr. Pitman that you weren’t to be let
in,” Moon said. “He wouldn’t say why.”
      “Don’t know why not; it was a good fight. An’ he
was winning. So give me my music.”
      “It wasn’t bad. I’ll give you five dollars for it.”
      “Nine was the price. Hand it over.”
      “You’re not in a situation to name a price, it seems to
me,” said Moon.
      “Nope. But you’re forgetting, I’m not in any position
to be needing the money all that much. I want it — or I
wouldn’t be selling — but I don’t need it.”
      “What for?” said Moon sharply, shifting with
irritation. “What for? Damn it, boy, this is the finest
music I’ve heard in twenty years in the business. Why are
you selling? Is it stolen?”
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      “You know it’s mine. You’ve been sponging off me
for a year — you know.”
      “Why? Or I’m not paying a cent.”
      “I need to pay a debt,” said Marc, shifting his eyes
away. “That’s why I can’t take less than nine.”
      “What kind of debt?”
      “None of your business.”
      “What’s going to happen to you if you don’t?”
      “What’s it to you? You want to see me dead anyway;
you’ve said it often enough.”
      Moon stared. You couldn’t have said his face was
softening, but it appeared to be losing its lines set in
disapproval. “You’re pulling my leg. No body’s going to
kill a body over a nine dollar debt.”
      “If I can’t play the piano, I’m dead. So what’s the
difference?” said Marc gruffly, looking at this hands and
balling them up into protective fists.
      Concentrating so hard on an imaginary threat, he
could almost feel the tears leaking out of the corners of his
eyes. He didn’t look at Moon to see his mouth standing
open—
      “Wait,” said Moon, disappearing inside. He wasn’t
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gone ten seconds before he came back out, pushing an
envelope into Marc’s hand.
     “Count it,” he said. Marc was going to anyway, but it
was nice to be asked. Twelve dollars in bills and coins.
     “Thank you, Sir,” he said. He held out the music and
grimaced at the sight of it disappearing into the director’s
bony paw.
     “’S worth more. That’s all I had on me.” Moon
started to turn but stopped. He reached out a hand to
shake.
     Marc shook it, grinning. “I’ll remember you said
that.”
     “You’ll never get me to admit it again,” said the man,
smiling back. “If you want to come back, after awhile, let
me know. We can talk him around.”
125

Chapter 14

      Marc trotted down to the train station. His mood was
lightened by the unexpected gesture — until he found out
that it would take eleven-fifty of the twelve dollars to buy
the two tickets, one of them being a fare-and-a-third for
return trip. Why to bother coming back?
      He tucked the tickets in his deepest pocket and looked
at the clock in the station. It was magically close to nine-
thirty — he’d only time to run back to his station at the
back of the hotel and the die would be cast.
      He ran back, not bothering to run fast. He'd plenty of
time…he took up his station at the back door, waiting for
Cherry.
      There were a few workers occupying the back alley.
Marc watched them from a distance — the big black man
who’d driven the wheelbarrow a day or so before; a couple
of younger men in canvas coats and baggy britches. They
were bricking in the foundation for the new restaurant
behind the Marseilles hotel. It stood at the corner, past the
Apollo theater.
      Cherry rushed out the back door and squealed to see
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him.
     “I knew you’d come!”
     “Great, now let’s go,” said Marc, taking her elbow
and propelling her tiny steps toward the theater. “Did you
use the parasol ruse?”
     “Yes, I told him I’d left it,” she said breathlessly. “As
soon as we’d gotten to our room, and he didn’t guess a
thing.”
     “But did you leave it?”
     “Well, no.” She looked up with a mild confusion in
her hazel green eyes. “I left it in our room.”
     “Hurry,” he said, propelling her past the theater and
detouring around the construction work. He immediately
heard a shout and a drumming of footsteps from behind—
not stopping to look back, he pulled Cherry past the
workmen and around the corner. He then turned around to
look up the alley—but he couldn’t see the hotel’s back
door.
     Another shout—it was Mr. Hunter’s voice! “You
there! Did you see a girl come past here?”
     “Nossuh. There ain’t been nobody along here.”
     The black man’s voice sounded as mild and
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uninterested as an undertaker’s. Marc gave the big man a
grateful wave and pushed Cherry along, running up the
street and ducking in the space behind the next two
buildings.
      On they ran — Cherry was blessedly too breathless to
talk. When they reached the streetcar stop, he let her rest
on the stone bench at the corner.
      “I didn’t know — I could run — that far,” she gasped.
      Leaning against the lamppost, Marc kept a lookout in
both directions and paused in between to admire the
heaving of her chest.
      “Where are you—“
      “Shhh.” The corner was filling up with people. An
ancient woman in an enormously bustled black skirt sat
directly beside Cherry, banging her came down on
Cherry’s toes by accident. The lady’s companion was an
ironing-board rigid matron of fifty, with a face like a
schoolmarm’s under a towering black hat.
      Cherry stood up and scurried over to Marc.
      “Don’t lean on my arm—you’ll really get her notice,”
he whispered.
      “I’m not used to this,” she sulked—but her eyes were
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sparkling.
     “From this minute forth you’re my cousin Mary, and
I’m escorting you back to Lafayette to live with your
sister. What’s your last name?”
     “Hunter—oh—my real one?”
     “No, your stage name. I’ll give you one,” he said,
leaning closer to emphasize it. “Mary…England. Like
it?”
     “Not much,” she said slowly, like she was afraid of
offending him. “But I’ll remember it.”
     “You’ll only need it for one-and-one-half days. Quiet
now—here’s the car. We’ll go to the train station first, so
people can see us there, and then we’ll head out of town.”
     They walked around the station for only a minute,
taking care to attract the attention of as many porters and
ticket sellers as possible. Marc wanted to be sure they'd
remember seeing Cherry there, if they were asked.
     Then they caught the streetcar again.
     He amused himself by watching her face as they rode
to the very end of the line. ‘Last stop!’ called the
conductor as they streetcar circled around, readying to
make the rapid circuit again.
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      “Come on,” he said, half-pulling her down the steps.
Another hundred feet of board sidewalk stretched out—
then there was nothing but dirt road under moss-hung oaks.
      “It’s only a mile, but we can’t take the road,” he
explained. We’ll go along here and take the old Indian
trail along the bayou.
      “Bayou—you mean a swamp?”
      “Sho’ly,” he aped, laughing loud at her fear.
“Quickest way to get there.”
      “Where?” She stared down the road and stepped out
resolutely, placing each footstep cautiously on the dried
grass that made up the path he was taking her on. In a few
minutes the road was out of sight but she could still see
farmhouses on all sides, cattle in the fields and an
occasional slow creep of a horse wagon going to market.
      “I need to hide you for one day. My uncle has a
sharecropper’s house that he’s been trying to rent and it’s
been standing vacant these two months. You take this
ticket—“ Marc excavated his pocket and handed her the
one-way ticket.
      “Keep it close in your pocket and don’t take it out.
I’ll let you in there and you go up in the loft and latch the
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door. No one will come—but even if anyone did come
they’d never know you were up there. You wait there for
me and I’ll come back at nightfall and bring you some
food.”
     “All day?” she said. Her eyes were terrified. She
looked frantically at the woods closing in around them,
vines overhanging the low branches to a murky curtain. A
creek sludged by to their left and through her frightened
eyes, Marc could almost see the reflection of alligators
looking out from the murky shadows. Down there beside
the creek the air was dense and chill, hidden from the
feeble sun that lightened the winter-brown fields.
     “I left you two books, and your bag. It’s as safe as
safe, honest.”
     “What if you don’t come?”
     “Give me till morning. If I don’t show up—but you
know I will—walk to the nearest house in the morning and
ask where Mrs. Corbeau lives. She’ll take care of you.”
     “You’d better show up.”
     “I will, Cherry.” He put an arm around her shoulder
and trudged on, listening to a winter mockingbird’s tuning
up-run.
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     “What—“
     “Shh—oh, sorry.”
     “What’dya shush me for?” she said, clutching his
hand as it rested warmly on her thin shoulder.
     “Nothing you’d believe.” For a minute there he’d
thought the mockingbird was attempting Schubert’s
Wanderer Fantasie. “I never did get to play you that song
I writ—yet.”
     “Where are we going tomorrow?” she asked. “Is that
Mrs. Corbeau going to take me?”
     “We’d best leave tomorrow to tomorrow,” he said.
“I’m taking you on a train trip, isn’t that an adventure?”
     “Yes, it is,” she said, smiling at the thought. They’d
walked into a forest of spider webs and Marc stopped to
pick up a stick to wave in front. She squinted her eyes and
dabbed at the sticky silk on her face with a handkerchief.
“This is more than enough adventure for me. It’s horrid!”
     “You’re calling my swamp horrid! Next you’ll be
calling me horrid.”
     “No…you’re wonderfully handsome. I could almost
kiss you right now…but I’ll save it. For when you come
back.”
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     “What a story!” He whooped with laughter. “I know
you really want to kill me.”
     “I do not!”
     “Do too!”
     “Well, maybe a little bit. For leaving me out here!”
     “I’ll be back,” he said reassuringly. “You can save
your kisses for then.”
     “I may not have any to save!”
133

Chapter 15

      He returned to the house—it was barely out of sight of
her hiding place, but there was no reason to let Cherry
know that. No piano lessons today so he had the rest of the
morning to himself.
      Somewhat to himself. Louisa burst in before he’d
even finished the first exercise. Mr. Benet’s velocity
exercises were spread out before him, but the Chopin lay
temptingly beside it—a reward for later.
      “There you are! Can I swap lessons with you
tomorrow? I’ll take nine o’clock and you take ten?”
      “Sure.” He wouldn’t be there anyway.
      “I have a luncheon to prepare for.”
      “Taking up cooking, are you?”
      “Silly! I’m going to the Beldham. To a bridal
shower.”
      “I don’t envy you,” he said, starting up the exercise
again but keeping his eyes politely on her face.
      “The invitation came in the mail Saturday, but Mother
only said I could go today. So I need to run a note down
this afternoon—do you have to make such a racket?”
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     “Yes. You kissed Bill Thornton yet?”
     “Hush! So can you run the note over for me?”
     “Take it yourself. I’m not no errand boy.”
     “How would that look—me delivering my own card!
You haven’t an ounce of fine sensibility sometimes, I do
declare. How long are you planning to keep that racket up,
anyway?”
     “’Till it sounds right.”
     “So can’t you take it in when you go to work?
     “I’m off today,” Marc said, deliberately playing
louder.
     “It won’t take but a minute if you ride Flower.”
     “Can’t Joe send his boy? I got hours to catch up on
here.”
     “I asked, and Joe won’t trust him with the horse. So it
has to be you.”
     “You have legs, don’t you, or is all fluff under your
skirt?”
     “How dare you say such a thing—I’m telling
Mother!”
     “Wait on—I just thought of something. I’ll go.”
Marc had been considering in the back of his mind how to
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steal enough provisions to take for Cherry. It was easy
enough in the night—but he had to have them before night.
But if Joe would let him take the horse, he could buy a loaf
of day-old bread and maybe some fried pies or something.
The rest he could pick up during dinner.
     “Go write it and I’ll take it after dinner,” he said.
     “Oh, thank you! You’re a sweetie.”
     Jumping up, Louisa gave him a quick squeeze of the
cheeks that he shook off with a roar. She vanished out the
door, leaving it open.
     Groaning, Marc got up and shut the door. Repeat in
every key, taking especial care with legato transitions
between fourths. “E-flat. Oh this is so very tedious, very
tedious this it is,” he sang with the notes. “I don’t want—“
     Aunt Marguerite’s soft scent of violets teased his
nose. Looking up with a smile, he continued the exercise
and watched her over his shoulder.
     “Louisa said you’d offered to drop off her note —
thank you so much — it means a great deal to her,” she
said in her soft voice.
     He unconsciously softened the notes as he listened.
     “What is your work schedule for this week?”
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     “I don’t know. I only checked for today and
tomorrow, I’m off in the day but I work at night.”
     “Excellent — can we go into town tomorrow and see
the tailor? Henri and I would like to get you a new coat to
wear, for the concert.”
     “What’s the matter with my old one? I just wore it
two weeks back.”
     “But this is so special! Everyone will be there — to
see you! We thought it would help your confidence, to
look extra nice, and we wanted to do something.”
     “Chere tante, I don’t need confidence. I can play
those songs upside down, downside up and sideways.”
     “I guess you can,” she said, patting his shoulders and
leaning her cheek to the top of his head. She left with that
gentle, mysterious rustle of skirts that he always associated
with a fine lady…it drew his gaze unconsciously to watch.
     He turned back. “A-flat,” he said mournfully.

      *

    He’d gone though every key and was practicing
Chopin with aching fingers, when the door opened still
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again. This time he didn’t notice it until a hand tapped his
shoulder.
      “Savanna!” he said with an automatic smile.
      “It’s dinnertime, Sir,” she said softly.
      “Shoot,” he said, closing the lid over the keyboard.
“Savanna, you don’t need to call me Sir.”
      She giggled and looked at the floor. “You’re the only
person I ever seen, sorry to hear it’s time to eat.”
      “I’ve only been practicing two hours.” He stood up
and stretched, brushing her shoulder on purpose to see her
try to hide a smile. “I wanted to get in more.”
      “It sounded fine.”
      He followed her closely to the door and jumped
around in front of it, resolutely tucking his hands in his
pockets.
      “How old is your Mama?”
      “Why do you want to know?” she said with a tease in
her soft voice. Marc had a sudden strong wish to have a
voice like that combined with a body like Cherry’s — not
that Savanna had all that slouch of a body, neither, but—
      “I promised,” he said out loud, pushing his hands
deeper into his pockets.
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     Savanna’s head tilted in question but he spoke faster.
“Thought I’d ask her to step out with me.”
     “Go on, you! You no sech thing!”
     “I wanted to know for Joe, because he won’t ask for
himself,” Marc admitted.
     “Curly? Mama’s married, didn’t you know?”
     “I thought she was a widow woman!”
     “Nope. Her husband been gone this ten year and she
don’t know if he’s dead or alive. He went on a boat, back
an’ forth, and then suddenly didn’t come back.”
     “Couldn’t the priest like — say something? And free
her up?”
     “I don’t think she wants him to,” she said, moving her
head closer. Close enough to kiss — Marc closed his eyes
and backed up against the door. “She likes him enough;
but I think she’s waiting until she’s too old to have
children. Then she’ll ask the priest.”
     “I hate to tell Joe that,” said Marc.
     “You’re a sweet one,” said Savanna, brushing an
imaginary speck of lint off his collar. The door was still
closed.
     “Damn,” muttered Marc under his breath. He opened
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the door and escaped.
     “I’m a filthy coward,” he griped.
140

Chapter 16

      Dinner came and went with no Mr. Hunter. Marc was
beginning to wonder if he needed to stop by the hotel and
let himself be accidentally discovered.
      He’d just gone out to the barn to saddle up Flower
when a shout came from behind.
      “There he is! I’ll have him—“
      “Sir!” said Uncle Henri. He cut off the man by
stepping in front of him — short as he was, Uncle still
seemed to dominate the situation.
      “This man has a question to ask you,” said Uncle,
glancing at Marc and turning a quenching stare on the
blustering fellow at his side.
      Mr. Hunter was red-faced like he’d borrowed his
confidence at the hotel bar. His eyebrows bushed out over
bulging eyes and his jaw would hardly come unclenched
long enough to talk.
      “Question! He knows what the question is, the little
snot. What have you done with my girl?”
      “Ch-cherry?” said Marc. After years of trying to lie
flawlessly, it was hard to lie badly on purpose. “Nothin’.”
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      “I’ll have the law on you — the both of you — if you
don’t turn her over. Where’s my daughter?”
     He pushed forward and Uncle cut him off again,
staring him down until he backed away.
     “She ain’t his daughter!” Marc blurted out. “She’s a
slave, that’s what she is — and he ain’t going to the
police.”
     “Is this true?” said Uncle calmly.
     “It’s true she isn’t my real daughter; I call her that out
of consideration.” Hunter straightened his coat sleeves and
stood up taller. “I bought her passage and I’m responsible
for her well-being until she is of age. You, boy, are a thief
of wages as well as a kidnapper and I will go to the police,
mark my words.”
     “Marc.” Uncle turned his full attention on his nephew
and Marc squirmed inwardly. His so-clever plan hadn’t
included telling a bald-faced lie directly to Uncle Henri.
He should have talked privately first—
     “Marc, this man is correct. He is responsible for his
charge, both corporeal and financial. If you know
anything, tell him now.”
     “Uncle—“
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      “Do you know where she is?” said Uncle Henri.
      It was no use. He either had to lie to Uncle or give
her up — he couldn’t show the lie in his face either — or
it’d come out in his voice.
      He turned his full attention on the ugly mug and let
every ounce of hateful scorn show on his face — this was
his only chance to keep from lying to Uncle.
      “I don’t know where she is, but I know she’s gone.
She’s run off,” he sneered and enjoyed it. “She’s tired of
you making her a thief and giving away her favors like a…
shoe-shine with a pair of new shoes. She’s gone — I
walked her to the station myself.”
      Mr. Hunter spit violently on the ground and shook his
arms, huge fists balling up. “Where’d she get the money?
You must have stole it for her!”
      Marc shook his head. “She went off with some man;
she said she was going to.”
      “What man?”
      “Dunno. Skinny guy, little brown mustache and no
beard. I saw ‘em. She’s gone to Chicago.”
      “Chi—Mr. Slaughter, was it?”
      “Don’t know his name. I handed him her bag and
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she’s gone — where you can’t sell her no more. She was
crying — but not when she waved goodbye. She was
smiling then.”
     “What bag? There ain’t no bag gone!”
     Marc shrugged. “Little red carpetbag, didn’t weigh
nothing.”
     Hunter’s eyes were so big they looked like bug eyes.
     “I’d suggest you put a wire through to Chicago,” said
Uncle. “Good afternoon, Sir.”
     “But he admits it—“
     “It sounds like he has more to admit that you’d care to
discuss in a court of law. I’d suggest you take your
business to the telegraph office.”
     Uncle Henri’s cold voice drove an icicle down Marc’s
spine.
     Hunter blustered and huffed, backing up the path
toward the house. Marc saw that he’d left a buggy and
driver waiting, just beneath the live oak that stood by the
front door.
     They both watched the buggy as it made a slow circle
—Mr. Hunter’s mouth moving continuously as he issued
voluminous instructions to the driver. Then it dashed
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away.
     “Where were you going, Marc?” said Uncle Henri.
     “Taking Louisa’s letter to Mrs. Thornton.”
     “You have to work tonight?”
     “Yes, Sir.”
     “See that you’re back in a half-hour. You’ll stay in
the house until time to leave for work.”
     “Sir, I had to help her—“
     “That’s enough.”
     Uncle Henri walked away — strode away — not in
anger but — determination. To what?
     At least he hadn’t told him to come home right after
the nonexistent show — yet. Marc slouched into the tack
room to get a bridle.
     “What was all that about?” said Joe.
     “You heard every word, didn’t you?”
     “Couldn’t help it. Sounds like you in a heap o’
trouble.”
     “Yeah, and it’s only getting worse.” Trying to
distract Joe and himself, Marc added, “Got some news for
you.”
     “Huh.”
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     “Mrs. Sally has a husband that got on a boat ten years
ago. She’s no idea where he is or if he’s coming back, and
he ain’t been seen in ten years.”
     “Ten year? That’s news to me. I knew she had a
husband that run out on her.”
     “You reckon he’s coming back?” Marc said, grinning.
He took the bridle and walked outside, expecting Joe to
follow.
     He took his time swapping out the halter for the
bridle. After a minute, Joe opened the door and stood in
the doorway. “You be careful — cinch up that headstall
snug.”
     “Surely.”
     “And you ain’t half got that saddle blanket straight.
Take it off and redo it.”
     “Surely.”
     Marc stayed quiet, waiting him out. He uncinched the
saddle, pulled if off, straightened the blanket…all as slow
as molasses.
     “How long does it take before the law will set a body
free?” Joe speculated.
     “Ask Uncle. I don’t think the law’s got any say if the
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priest says to.”
     “Mebbe you’re right,” Joe said, breaking out into a
grin. The grin faded. “And maybe she’s waited ten years
because she ain’t found anyone she likes better yet.”
     “Don’t give up so easy.” Marc finished the job and
picked up the halter from the ground where he’d dropped
it. He tossed it over and swung into the saddle.
     “Hi, yi, yi, yippee!” he hollered. “Go on, Flower,
show us your speed!”
     “Don’t be running that hoss! You—“
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Chapter 17

     After a long afternoon of practice and a quick supper
in the kitchen, Marc set out in the direction of work and
blessed his stars that Uncle hadn’t reminded him to come
home directly after the show was over. But the back of his
mind was uneasy…he would be expected to know without
being told.
     It was nearing dark when he detoured out of sight of
the house and cut across fields to the sharecropper’s
shanty. He stopped in the deep shade of a moss-draped
oak, looking and listening in all directions for a sign of an
observer.
     The three-quarters moon hung in an obscene half-
circle, bulging at one side with the fullness to come. It was
misted with clouds, but lit up the grounds well enough that
Marc only needed to wait a minute before he was sure the
coast was clear. He darted inside.
     “Cherry! Y’up there?”
     “Oh, Marc Corbeau, is it you?” There was a
scrabbling at the trapdoor and she came down in a flurry,
enveloping him in a whirlwind hug and wetting his cheek
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with tears. “I’ve been so frightened — and I thought you
would never come — it’s been ages, it truly has! Oh,
thank you — bless you—“
     Her face was still pressed up against his as she cried
on his neck, so he stopped the water overflow with a kiss.
A round one — solid and suggestive — she didn’t return it,
but she didn’t pull away and he kissed her again, slowly.
His hands felt out her waist — incredibly tiny — and
circled it, wondering if it were whalebone or flesh.
     “Let me — get my breath—“ Cherry gasped. She
pushed him away but kept a hand on his arm like she was
holding on so he couldn’t run away.
     “Bet you need to visit the outhouse.”
     “Yes, I do. But it’s dark! You didn’t bring a lamp?”
     “Where am I gonna get a lamp?” he teased. “I’ll go
with you.”
     “Okay — oh, you! You’ll not do any such a thing!
You can wait outside.”
     The moon was still keeping it well lighted outside, so
Marc peeped out the door and took her out cautiously.
That done, she followed him back into the house and
asked, “You didn’t bring any…”
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     “Food?”
     “Didn’t figure you’d be hungry. I brought a snack for
myself.” He opened up a canvas feed sack and drew out
the bread, laughing at Cherry’s attempts to peer through
the dark and see what he was pulling out. She didn’t touch
a thing and seemed afraid to get too close to it. “Two dried
peach turnovers — save one for breakfast tomorrow.
Bread, cheese, cold sausages and a slice of roast pork from
dinner.”
     He spread it out on the sack, beside the brightest
window, and waited for her to start eating. After a minute
of watching—she sat politely on the floor, hands in her lap
—he laughed. “Ain’t you gonna eat?”
     “What is there for me?”
     “Why, all of it. Don’t you know when I’m fooling?”
     “Oh!” she exclaimed, tearing into the food like she
was starving. “Mr. Hunter says if I eat too much I’ll get
fat and not be any use to him anymore, but I ain’t going to
see him anymore, am I? But why do I need a turnover for
breakfast — I’m not — I’m not spending the night here!”
     She looked up from the food and peered at his face.
With his back to the window, it was visible only as
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darkness.
     “You’re taking me, aren’t you? You won’t leave me.”
     “Ten o’clock tomorrow morning. Didn’t you look at
your ticket? I’ll be here right after breakfast, we’ll walk to
town and we’re gone.”
     “Where? Gone where?”
     “To my Grandmother. She’ll take care of you.
There’s always plenty of people working in the cane fields,
so she needs cooks, and housecleaners, sewers, whatever
you want to do. She’ll find you a job.”
     “I’m not much good at any of that,” she said in a
diminished voice.
     “I reckon there’s other stuff. ‘Less you want to cut
cane. That’s probably what I’ll be doing,” he mourned.
     “I’ll do my best. You shouldn’t ought to scare me —
I though you was leaving.”
     “Well, I might as well warn you. I got to leave in
about an hour, go back home and make believe go to bed.
Then I’ll be here and spend the night with you but I have
to go back for morning chores. It’s the only way, Cherry.”
     “You can’t! I — I’ll run away! Why can’t I go with
you?”
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      “Because you’d be caught in a minute. Do you want
to be sent back to him? Because you will.”
     She shivered and looked down at the last of the food,
making no motions to finish.
     “Save it for tomorrow, I would,” he said cheerfully.
He loaded it back into the sack and stood up, holding out a
hand. “Do you want to go for a walk?”
     She stood too, looking around at the dim room
helplessly. “Is there anything to drink?”
     “Ay! I forgot! There’s a pump in the yard — let me
pump you up a bucket.” He trotted outside and found her
closely pursuing him. Moonlight was enough to see by, so
he pulled up the bucket and took a look at it. “Bucket’s
cracked but it looks like it’ll hold a teaspoon.”
     “Oh — I was hoping to wash up too,” she said. Her
voice sounded like it was crying.
     “Or a gallon. Just kidding.”
     “Mr. Hunter, he never made jokes.”
     “I ain’t Mr. Hunter. And that ain’t a joke.”
     “I know you aren’t,” she said softly, putting a hand on
his arm again. When he set the bucket on the ground, she
sipped from the edge and then wet a handkerchief in the
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water and dabbled at her cheeks and chin.
     Marc sat on the edge of the pump frame and swung
his heels, humming and singing a mournful tune to match
the winter moans of the frogs.
     In fair Nottamun town
     Not a soul would look up
     Not a soul would look up—
     Not a soul would look down.
     Not a soul would look up
     Not a soul would look down
     To show me the way to fair Nottamun town.

      Sat down on a hard
      Hot cold frozen stone
      Ten thousand stood ‘round me
      And yet I was alone
      Took my hat in my hands
      For to keep my head warm
      Ten thousand got drownded that never was born.

      “That’s spooky,” she said. “Did you want to walk?”
      “Sure, let’s go down to the bayou.” He led her around
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to a path under the tall trees, edging a creek that reflected
moonlight in the few intervals of sky. A faint mist was
rising off the water, in the middle, but on the edges it was
crusted with mold, a mossy dull carpet to hide a creeping
shadow.
     Cherry shied away from the trees, smothered with a
messy fluffy of resurrection fern up the trunk and draped
with vines overhead. A spiky fan of palmetto poked her
arm, making her jump.
     He started another song.
     …had her apron wrapped around her and he took her
for a swan. But behold and alas, it was she—Polly Von.
     Cheery listened silently as he continued the mournful
ballad, singing to the trees and the birds, hidden on their
nests.
     “You’re good. You ought to be on a show.”
     “Nah — I don’t want to sing, really. I want to write
the songs, not sing ‘em. I’m going to someday, too.
Eyes!”
     Starting, Cherry looked where he was pointing just in
time to see a ripple in the water. “What is it?” she
whispered.
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      “Gator. Big one.”
      She gasped, scrambling away from the bank and
pulling him with her.
      “He ain’t interested in us, ‘cept to get away. Unless
we’re planning on going swimming.”
      “It’s too cold, isn’t it?”
      “That was a joke. Not a very good one, I admit. Sit
down on this log and hear another song — you’ll like this
one.”
      He sung and whistled an ancient “haint” story of a
little old boy who goes way out in a swamp, falls asleep
and finds out that the frogs are talking human talk. She
laughed when he was finished, and that was applause
enough.
      “I love it here!” Marc said. He tossed a twig in the
water and watched the ripples disappear into mist.
“There’s always something happening in the city — a
fight, a horserace. Music to play and music to hear.
Concerts, shows. It’s never too cold —“
      “It’s cold now,” she said, wrapping up her arms
against her chest.
      “But this is as cold as it ever gets.”
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      “You’re kidding? Doesn’t it snow in the winter?”
      “Nope, never. Not since I’ve known it. And then,
when the city gets tiresome and you want a rest, there’s
always the swamps and the woods, quiet on the top and
full of noise underneath. Nobody to trouble you out here,
‘cept sometimes a tramp or a stinkin’ skunk. And when
you’re rested, you go back to the city and it’s always there
waiting for you.”
      “I’m sorry you got to leave.”
      “I won’t be—“ he stopped, but not fast enough to
avoid a suspicious twist of her head.
      “Sing me something else, then,” she said, snuggling
up to his arm like a kitten seeking warmth.
      It didn’t mean anything, he knew that now. He’d
never seen a girl less interested in kissing than Cherry
was…it was confounding. Maybe she just didn’t like him
— he’d never encountered the phenomenon, but guessed it
was possible. She had the same interest in him as…as a
fancy lady would.
      But that was no reason to turn down a request to sing.
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Chapter 18

      After an hour he sneaked back to the house, detaching
himself from Cherry with difficulty. He had to promise to
bring back a blanket to get her to let him go.
      The house was still lit up and he hoped he’d judged
the time right. Too early, and they’d be asking why he
wasn’t at work—too late, and he’d probably be facing a
whipping.
      The kitchen was dark — that was a good sign. He
sneaked up the pitch-black hall and tried to look at the
clock in the parlor without being seen through the parlor
doorway. It seemed right.
      The usual routine was to greet Aunt and Uncle and
head straight for the piano. The usual was impossible —
everything felt different. What was normal anyway? He
never paid any attention to it before.
      He stepped in the parlor, smiling as Aunt Marguerite
looked up from her sewing. “Cook left a slice of pie for
you in the pantry, if you’re hungry.”
      “No thank you, Aunt. May I go practice now?”
      “Of course,” she said, anchoring her needle as he
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leaned his head down for a kiss. “Don’t stay up too late.”
      Feeling like a complete heel, he lit the lamp in the
large parlor and sat down to practice. Uncle had looked up
but hadn’t even cleared his throat — punishment was
pending. Even a whipping was better than this slow
waiting around for the doom to descend.
      He took a minute to fold a stack of papers into a
canvas carrying bag. The new set of finger exercises were
first to go — he wouldn’t be using them tonight but might
get a chance to work on them at Grandmother’s old
upright.
      He spread out a Brahms collection before him and
forgot the world for an hour. Nothing ever seeped through
when he was playing something so demanding. It was a
wrench to come out of the majesty.
      The lamp had burned so low he couldn’t make out the
notes. The feeling of confusion nagged him until he
jumped up, remembering.
      Aunt and Uncle had long since gone to bed.
      “Damn,” he muttered under his breath. He tucked the
music into the bag and took a last longing look at the
piano. Then he tiptoed upstairs for a blanket.
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     Halfway out the door, he remembered to go back and
tuck a clean shirt into the canvas bag. Nothing else
seemed useful enough to take…maybe a pencil and a few
pages of blank music paper. Then he went back upstairs
and got his two prize possessions — a tuning hammer and
an old gold watch.
     He was stalling.
     “I’ll be back,” he muttered. “At least…for a day or
two.”
     The interminable walk — or sneak — back to the
sharecropper’s house gave him material for another new
song. He tried singing it…no, a voice didn’t sound right—
there weren’t enough synonyms for lonesome. Maybe a
violin could sing the melody and something…low…could
play a distant thunder in the shadows.
     “Is that you?” called a wavering voice. He was at the
door of the shack, standing still and humming to himself.
     “Yup. Got’cha blanket.”
     “I’ve been waiting hours! And how you expect me to
sleep on this wood floor — I can’t imagine! It’s
thundering, too — Marc, how could you?”
     He cringed. The voice was so out of tune it jarred his
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nerves. Anyone in his right mind would turn and run.
     “We can go sleep under a cedar tree.”
     It was pitch black now. They had to bump heads
before he could hand over the blanket. She reached out
delicate hands, patting it and appreciating its weight.
     “I’m sorry. I’m just tired,” she said softly.
     “Here, I’ll spread it out for you. You can have two
folds to sleep on and one layer to put on; it’s a big ‘un.”
     “Don’t you want any — you’re not leaving again?”
The panic in her voice made it even shriller.
     “Said I’d stay till daylight. Then I got to do chores
but I’ll be back to get you in the morning. This is my bag;
don’t lose it.”
     She patted the bag and gave a little sigh. “You are
coming, then. You’re a…a wonder.”
     “Yeah,” he said, thumping himself down beside the
blanket. She appeared to have had a wash-up in his
absence — a lilac-scented soap was tickling his nose…and
a very pleasant attraction was tickling his innards.
     He swore softly, twisting around to try to get
comfortable. It was a mission doomed to fail. The hard
floor, the chill in the air, and the sweet-smelling girl at his
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side — any one of them would have made it impossible to
go to sleep.
      “Look, Cherry — maybe I better go on back so that I
don’t miss the sunrise. If I’m late doing my chores, I may
never get back in time.”
      “But it’s fixing to rain!”
      “So? The roof don’t leak or the floor wouldn’t be this
dry.”
      “If you leave me alone, I won’t get a wink of sleep all
night. I’ll be thinking it’s burglars with every noise.”
      “We’re the burglars, remember?”
      “And it’s thundering…” she said, voice dying away to
listen to the distant grumble.
      “Shoot! Let me sleep on the blanket then, and I’ll
stay.”
      “Of course you can — oh! I didn't realize--you’re
wanting to…do it. I thought you was too young.”
      “Hardly. But I won’t…unless you want me to.”
      “Oh, go ahead — I don’t mind.”
      Marc squinted his eyes, trying to see her face in the
darkness. It was impossible.
      “But I want you to mind,” he said.
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      “Oh, fiddle! Only let me take my dress off first — I
don’t want it to get dirty.”
      He heard a rustle and got an elbow in the face. Trying
to focus his ears — since eyesight was impossible — he
imagined the progression of noises into an impossible,
delicious fantasy. Reaching out cautiously, he located her
face and maneuvered an arm under her head.
      Instinctively starting a kiss, he remembered too late
that there wasn’t any point. She didn’t care about kissing
— he might as well get to the good part. He didn’t even
have to be a gentleman—.
      “Ow,” she hissed through gritted teeth.
      “Sorry.”
      “Go — on,” she said faintly. He reminded himself to
go easy — but at the first touch she jerked back and
gasped.
      “Does it hurt?” he asked. The answer was obvious.
      “Just get on with it!” she snapped. “Yes, it always
hurts a little — and that pig, he—well—I’ll be fine in a
day or two.”
      “He what?”
      “He was just mean. They all are. Hurry up, will
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you?”
     “Damn! That wasn’t the first time it happened? Why
didn’t you run away before this?”
     “Well…I never had you to help me before. It’ll be
fine. Go on.”
     “Hell, no, I won't. Have you call me a pig, too?”
     “Marc, please!” She sat up and a lightning-bolt
glimpse of bare shoulders had him instantly, achingly hard
again. “I want you to — I do, really.”
     “Let’s wait a day or two. I need to go to the outhouse
before it starts raining.”
     “No!” she said anxiously, grabbing for him.
     “I ain’t leaving you, okay? Just give me a minute —
and then in a couple days if you still want me to, I’ll be
waiting.”
     “All right,” she said, sounding much relieved. Marc
didn’t care — he was beyond caring at that point. He
staggered outside and satisfied himself privately — in
record time.
     “She was good for something, at least,” he said. The
wood floor was going to feel as soft as a featherbed.
163




Chapter 19

     Next morning went like clockwork. He did the
chores, hid a note in Cousin Louisa’s music lesson book,
ate breakfast with such good manners that Aunt asked if he
were sick, twice…and walked down the road free, at nine
o’clock.
     Cherry was waiting at the door of the deserted house,
pacing back and forth between windows so constantly that
a passer-by couldn’t help but see her. He didn’t bother
mentioning it.
     “Got’ta hurry. Train leaves at ten-thirty.”
     She practically ran down the path to catch up.
“Where are we going?”
     “Thibodaux. Then it’s about a two hour walk out to
the farm, but we might catch a ride.”
     “Oh,” she said, making a little face and looking at her
feet. They were tiny, impractical things. Marc chuckled.
     “Carry your bag?” he offered.
     “What are we going to do when we get there?”
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     “Eat supper, I s’pose. Then get our livers roasted for
being there,” he said glumly.
     “But why?”
     “You know why. You know I ain’t supposed to be
doing this.”
     “But she’s your grandmother, isn’t she? Why won’t
she be glad to see you?”
     “Because I’m not where I’m supposed to be,” he said,
exasperated. “Do you still think I’m making up stories?”
     “No…but what are you going to do? You’ll work too,
won’t you?”
     ”I reckon. ‘Told you I’d probably be put to planting
rice.”
     “Won’t you be sent back?”
     “Maybe, maybe not.”
     “But you said you were going to stay with me!”
     “I never said I was going to stay with you, I said I was
going to go with you,” he said.
     Guessing she was ready to argue this point forever, he
started to whistle. After one mad look, she turned her back
on him and walked ahead, scowling.
     He kept a careful ear — and eye — scanning up and
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down the road, but no wagons came by for the thirty-
minute walk to town. The streetcar was so crowded that he
didn’t fear detection — only if a person were looking for
them would they be likely to be spotted. They hopped on
at the end of the route and rode gaily up the middle of the
street.
     He decided to leave the bags on the station platform
and walk away to wait. The less time they stood at the
depot, the better. They could walk down to the waterfront
—it was only a step—and count steamship masts while
they waited. If Louisa found her note and let out the
secret, at the railroad station he’d be spotted for sure.
     The train station was a long, narrow building, not
really low roofed but it looked that way from the outside.
The roof overhung a wide concrete walkway on all sides.
On one side there was a grand view of the river, filled with
steamship chimneys. On the other there was a track for the
streetcar, and beyond that, the train tracks.
     There was a youngish porter at platform three, waiting
and standing guard over a small pile of luggage. The train
was nowhere to be seen.
     “New Iberia?” asked Marc.
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     “I though you said Thibodaux!” said Cherry, whirling
around.
     “It’s on the way,” said the porter, chuckling. “You
got the right train.”
     “Can we leave our bags here for the train?” asked
Marc.
     “Yep. Tha’s what I’m here fo’. You goin’ round
trip?”
     “Yeah,” said Marc absently.
     “Coming back, be sure to hold on to ‘em. They’s an
awful crowd on the night train.”
     Cherry had dived into her pocket, looking at her
ticket. Marc tried to look unconscious and led her away.
     “You — you made a mistake, didn’t you? You don’t
have no round trip ticket.”
     “Yes, you’re right. Dunno why—“
     “You’re lying! You do! And you’re just going to
dump me out in the swamps without any money and not
care if they turn me out — if there even is any
grandmother — and—“
     “Blame it all! I can’t take any more of you!”
     She started to cry, right there on the steps of the
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station.
      “Hell!” he said, drawing an outraged stare from a lady
passer-by. “I lost my job over you, sold my music that I
didn’t want to sell and now I’m about to get thrown out of
the best home I ever had — and you can take your ticket
and leave! Good-bye.”
      He turned on a heel and stomped off down the street.
      Cussing so hard he couldn’t see straight, Marc
bumped right into a boy who was blocking the sidewalk.
Blocking the whole sidewalk—
      Marc ducked, barely seeing a roundhouse right go
past his ear.
      It was that Tom-something again — Marc
immediately started a hard right of his own. Two sets of
arms grabbed him from behind. He twisted viciously.
      Lost one of ‘em — but he barely avoided an uppercut.
His jaw crashed shut hard as it hit him and glanced off.
      He kicked sideways, contacting bone. Flailing with
arms and legs, he felt two of his hits make contact — he
got Tom in the face as he moved forward for a punch. If
he could get free of the arms on either side—
      A fist hit his eye. He reached out — caught an elbow
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and dug his fingers into the tendon.
     One boy backed off. He punched at the second — a
hit — two — then he was falling with two of them hitting
him at once. He was going to lose — lose a fight! He
hadn’t lost a fight in five years!
     Barely able to see, he twisted up into a crouch — and
suddenly one of the boys was flying backward, projected
by an unseen force. He redoubled his blows at Tom —
borrowing the rapid right-left pattern he’d learned from the
manager.
     Tom was down! Marc staggered backward and saw
the third boy running away. The second was struggling to
get loose from a big man — portly — eyeglasses — it was
Paussen! He’d been the force that pulled the fighter off.
     Marc tripped over a brick and he saw no more.

      *

     He awoke drowning. Sputtering up—
     Cherry leaned over him, shaking him. Looking over
her shoulder, he saw a young man throw an empty bucket
down and walk away petulantly. Mr. Paussen scurried
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after him, pleading.
     “What in the world?”
     “Hurry,” she said. “The train leaves in ten minutes.
You have to hurry!”
     “Why am I all wet?”
     “You were knocked out, and he threw the bucket of
water over you. Oh, hurry!”
     Trying to stand, Marc felt woozy. He steadied
himself on her shoulder and suddenly felt a screaming
multitude of pains engulf his entire body.
     “What happened?” he said, trying to walk along with
her. She was practically dragging him up a set of steps.
     “Mr. Paussen saw the fight and pulled off that skinny
boy. And you knocked out that big boy, stood up, and fell,
smashing the side of your head on that cinder block.
Hurry!”
     “But who was that?”
     “Then the other man saw Mr. Paussen leaning over
you and he really got in a hissy. He hollered, ‘What do
you think you’re doing?’ and all. And Mr. Paussen said,
‘Can’t you see this boy is hurt?’ And that’s when the other
man got the bucket of water and doused you good.”
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     “I guess Mr. Paussen’s found himself a new honey,”
said Marc, laughing.
     It hurt to laugh. When he reached up to his eye it felt
puffy and it didn’t want to open; the other eye ached and
his chest couldn’t get a full breath.
     Cherry dragged him along the long line of the depot,
out to the door leading to their platform. Ignoring the
severe looks of the lined-up people on the platform, she
pushed him up the steps into the car just as the last whistle
blew. All eyes turned from their sober waves to drill holes
in his grimy back.
     Marc looked back, caught the eye of a girl little older
than him. She was barely holding back tears; he gave her a
big grin and saw a half-smile in response.
     “Is something wrong, Miss?” said the conductor. He
looked about half ready to toss Marc back off the train.
     “No — it’s my brother — he fell off the wagon and
busted his head but we have to go — we had tickets—“ she
gestured frantically for Marc to produce his own ticket.
     The tall man with the word conductor written across
his cap punched Cherry’s ticket solemnly. He gave Marc’s
a hard stare.
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     “Round trip?”
     “Yes, sir. I have to take my sister back to
Grandmother, Sir,” Marc said. “But I need to be back at
work on Monday. She’ll take care of you, sis,” he added,
patting her shoulder.
     Cherry gave a little sniff. “I guess so.”
     The train jerked, and they both struggled to keep their
feet. Glaring down from a lofty eminence, the conductor
growled, “Take your seat.”
     “Yes'sir,” said Marc. They fell into the nearest of the
red velvet seats and bounced a little on the cushion.
     “I could sleep on this,” said Marc, leaning his head
back and closing his eyes.
     “Oh, how could you,” she said. “You’re not going
away to a place—“
     “Don’t start it,” he warned.
     “I’m sorry,” she said in a very small voice. It startled
Marc into opening his eyes again.
     “What’d you change your mind for?”
     “I was just worried,” she said, twisting a handkerchief
in her lap. “But you were doing the best you could and I
ain’t going to pick at you anymore.”
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    “You understand, I’m going to leave you with
Grandmother and be gone in two days. Unless they make
me stay.”
    “I hope they don’t make you stay, Marc.”
    He closed his eyes again. Whatever this new mood
was, it was easier to bear than argument.
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Chapter 20

      Cherry stared out the window as the train droned on.
Marc managed to sleep a little; there was nothing to watch,
in particular — just barns and wagons, trees and spreading
spring swamps — but he was always excited by travelling.
      If he hadn’t been bone tired and aching in every bone,
he’d have been as absorbed in the moving pictures as she
was.
      They stopped twice at crossroads, where enough of a
ridge of ground stood out of the marsh to support a muddy
track disappearing into sedge grass. There were no
stations there — people jumped down from the lowest step
and caught their baggage as a brakeman tossed it over.
      The expanses of tall, waving grass were intermixed
with dense stands of evergreen oak, draped with a funeral
shroud of Spanish moss. If you stared into the dark
underneath you could imagine the eyes of a swamp haunt,
staring in search of prey.
      At length he came awake enough to drink a cup of
water that Cherry brought from the spigot up front. His
eye ached worst of all—fingering it gingerly, he decided it
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was swollen and wouldn’t open full.
     “I got a black eye, ain’t I?
     “It’s not so black…just kind of gray around the
underneath,” she said.
     “Maybe Grandmother will feel sorry for me,” he said,
groaning.
     “This is our stop, isn’t it?” she said, perched on the
edge of her seat.
     “Yep,” he replied, grinning at her anxiety. An hour-
long trudge would trim that down…but maybe she’d
forgotten about that part.
     The train screeched to a stop and a few people
stumbled, getting to their feet with sheepish grins.
     Most of the people were staying on. Marc and Cherry
squeezed down the narrow aisle and stepped off, queuing
up for the luggage to be unloaded.
     “Hungry?”
     “Yes, I guess I am,” she said, surprised at the thought.
     “Got any money?”
     “Oh…a little and…I don’t want to waste it, I guess.”
     “Then I guess you’ll just have to stay hungry unless
you want me to steal something.”
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      “No! You might get caught and — I don’t think this
is a good time to get caught.”
      There wasn’t much to be seen of the town where they
got off — just a handful of false-front buildings along a
muddy dirt street. There was a post office and a tavern in
sight; farther down there might have been a grocery store
or feed store — you couldn’t tell from the sameness of
gray boards framing the dirty glass store windows —
you’d have to go right up and look in to tell the difference.
      Waiting for a team of mules to plod across the tracks,
Marc thought of a song and stepped out singing.
      “Movin’ on down, movin’ on down, movin’ on down
the road.” He swung time with the bags — it hurt less to
keep moving that to sit still.
      With one doubtful look at the distant grocery store,
Cherry hurried after him.
      In a step they had left the town behind and were
walking in the hard grass between the muddy wagon
tracks. The houses they passed were so far off the road, so
grandly constructed and so stately behind acres of weedy
lawn and plantings of pines, that it seemed to take an age
to pass a single one.
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     They walked with a will for fifteen minutes, Marc
whistling and Cherry continually looking behind for a
wagon that didn’t come.
     “Oh, I can’t walk any further!” she exclaimed.
     “You gotta. See if you can make it to that pine tree up
there and we’ll take a rest in the shade.”
     “Ugh. She put her head down and trudged on,
moaning with every step. “How far is it?”
     Marc didn’t answer.
     After a very short rest at the pine tree, he hopped up
and tried to pull her back to her feet. “Quarter of the way
there and it’s getting dark before awhile. Give it a try, will
you?”
     She groaned and stood, stepping out painfully with
steps so slow that they made him grit his teeth. “Take my
arm like a fine lady and we’ll get another good step on the
way, will you? I could go ahead and send a wagon back
—“
     “No, I’ll try,” she said, quickening her pace a fraction.
     “Shall I sing a marching song?”
     “No, it makes it harder somehow.”
     “Talk, then,” he encouraged, hoping it would take her
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mind off the pain. He supposed she had blistered toes
from her narrow-toed boots. He’d had ill-fitting shoes
once, as a child, when mother’s money was running low
and she dressed him out of the stage wardrobe’s discards.
He knew what it felt like, and he sympathized, but that
didn’t make any difference now.
      “What’s your favorite thing to do?” he asked.
      “What do you mean?” she said, giving him an
incredulous look. “Like what?”
      “Like…like my thing to do is play music. And write
music — I like that better sometimes. But what do you
like to do?”
      “I like to put on pretty clothes. And eat ice-cream.”
      “Yeah, that’s a good ‘un.”
      “And shopping.”
      “Hmm…” he said, puzzled. “Most girls like parties
best.”
      “I’ve — I’ve never been to a party.”
      “You ain’t missed much. Did’ya go to school, back in
England?”
      “Yes, but I hated that.”
      “What was it like, coming here from England? Just
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you and your sisters?”
     “Oh, awful at first. We had a carpetbag each and we
were ferried out to the ship — oh, a big, big ship. And
they got a thousand and four hundred people on it—I
counted them. You couldn’t walk without bumping into
one.”
     “What was her name?”
     “I don’t remember, the Queen something. But they
took us on down below the deck and it was so awful I
wanted to be sick, right then.”
     “Steerage?” he asked, nodding.
     “Yes.” She shuddered.
     “I was in a cabin, but they had a few hundred people
for’rard,” said Marc.
     “Couldn’t see well anytime except that first day, but I
remember we were in compartment four and there were
four beds underneath us in there. We took the farthest
back corner because Dorie was afraid of falling off. From
up there you could reach the roof. You bumped your head
if you sat up.
     “Nasty girls next to us; the big one snored all the time.
And the one next to Dorie kicked in her sleep. I pushed
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her off once and got bit for my reward,” she giggled and
Marc rejoiced. Her steps were almost normal size and the
limp had nearly vanished.
      “What was the food like there?”
      “T’wadn’t bad. I’d been in an orphan farm for two
months before it and we never ate good there. But the
woman who berthed below us — Madson, her name was
— she went on and on about how nasty it was. Rats got in
it, she said. She said she seen an Italian man put his hand
right in the food, grabbing for a bit o’ sausage. She had
some crackers that she ate at night, ‘stead of eating the
food. I suppose she made them last the whole trip out.”
      “I wished I’d been there,” said Marc. “It sounds like a
song — all them people sleeping and snoring and the ship
creaking. An awful song — a ship of the damned.”
      “You’d ought to have been there one day when it
stormed. They shut us in and it was dark as pitch down
there for all the day. People got to praying — or
screaming — or — I can’t say any more.” She looked
down at her feet and walked even faster, like she was
trying to walk the memories away.
      “When we got there at last it was like sailing into
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heaven,” she said.
     “Where was there?”
     “New York harbor. They took us to a place — Castle
Garden, that’s what it was. It was awful beautiful. First
the beautiful houses, then the big city going on for ever.”
     “There’s an ending to my song,” said Marc,
fascinated. “When you sailed in, it was peace after the
storm.”
     “Didn’t you see it? It was just like that!”
     “I didn’t go in to New York,” he said. “So you’ll
have to tell me about it.”
     “Just like that. The place where they took us, it
wasn’t so nice because it was too full of people and no
place to wash up. But we didn’t have to stay there long.
Just told our names to a man there and went to the
worktable. There we were taken by a man who’d paid our
fare, and he boarded us up in a big house until we were
bought up.”
     “Bought up? Like slaves?”
     “No, but that’s what it felt like. We felt like we were
being sold to who ever’d take us. But Mr. Hunter, he
wasn’t so bad. And his wife. Dorie got along with her
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pretty good.”
      “Oh, he was an angel,” said Marc.
      “Well, he didn’t use to make me steal. Not till…this
year, when his wife said I was eating too much food and
not putting any back.”
      “Wagon!” he said, turning around sharply. An old
white horse was coming up behind hem, slowly pulling an
empty wagon. The driver was a big colored man who
looked like he could have pulled the wagon himself, and
might need to. The horse wasn’t moving that much faster
than Cherry at her slowest.
      They moved out of the road to let it pass.
      “You’re on…Gaillard’s farm, ain’t you? I remember
your face, I think,” called Marc. “I’m Marc Corbeau and
this is my cousin. Come to visit.”
      The man squinted with the sun in his eyes and pulled
up. His mouth said, “Good evening” but no sound came
out. He didn’t seem to look directly at them.
      “Trade you a song for a ride,” said Marc. “I got some
good ones out of N’yawlins.”
      “Don’t matter, git on, Suh,” said the man. The words
came out that time, but they didn’t have any volume to
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them.
      “I figured you would,” said Marc. “But it’s more fun
to trade than to ask a favor.”
      They both watched, fascinated as the man got slowly
down from the wagon box. He had a foot missing—
instead of a shoe he had a leather strap wrapped around the
stump of his heel.
      “Why you getting’ down?” asked Marc.
      “Lil’ Bess can’t take too much to pull,” muttered the
man.
      “But I’m walking, anyway,” Marc protested, handing
Cherry up into the wagon.
      “Are you?” said the man, surprised.
      “Sure. Speed that old nag goes, I’ll be itching, trying
to sit still. Git on up yerself—and she don’t weigh
nothing,” he added, pointing at Cherry.
      The man climbed up faster than he’d climbed down.
Marc watched, staring at his foot.
      “Yo’ thinking on where I lost my foot, an’ yo wrong.”
      “No I wadn’t,” said Marc. The man flicked the reins
and with a lurch, the old horse started. “Ok, maybe I was.
Where’d you lose it?”
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     “Went up north, working for a man. He had a
hankerin’ to go hunting elk and ant’lope. We got caught in
a blizzard out on the open plain. Never knew that word
afore — blizzard. I sho’ learned it fast then. Walked our
hosses and walked ‘longside our hosses to keep our feet
from freezin’ — twenty mile, it must’a been. When we
got back to shelter we thawed our feet in snow. On t’other
foot, I only lost three toes.”
     “Ow!” said Marc, shuddering. “I never want to see
snow again.”
     “Me, neither,” said the man.
     “Can’t top that story, so I’ll sing Frankie and Johnny.
Some folks say Albert, but I don’t reckon he cares
anymore.”

      Frankie was a good woman
      Everybody knows,
      She spend a hundred dollar,
      For to buy her man some clothes
      He was her man
      But he done her wrong
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      By the tenth verse Marc was gratified to see the old
man smiling and nodding in time — well, it wasn’t exactly
a smile, but a lot more good cheer than the face had shown
earlier.
      He ended the song with Frankie hanged, adding a low
down chorus of done gone, done gone.
      “That’s spooky,” said Cherry.
      “Done let ol’ Miss Gaillard here you singin’ it. She
lets on to think you hadn’t ought to sing ‘cept for hymns
and burying ceremonies.”
      “Sure,” said Marc, singing a camp meeting song.

      When-a my blood runs chilly and cold, I’ve got to go.
      I’ve got, to go.
      I’ve got to go.
      Oh, when my blood runs chilly and col’, I’ve got to
go.
      Way, be beyond the moon.
      Do Lord, Do Lord, Do remember me…

     The man’s lined face relaxed into a faint smile, barely
creasing the lines of his thin cheeks. “You done that real
185

good,” he said quietly, like a thought.
     “I learned it from Renny. I cain't wait to see him
again — I got some new ones for him,” said Marc,
humming with anticipation.
     “He dead.”
     Marc staggered, turning in his steps to watch the
wagon rattle by. “What d’ya mean? He ain’t old enough
to die!”
     “He was kilt.” The man’s face didn’t turn to
acknowledge Marc following behind. He kept his eyes
steady and half-closed, trained on the farm nag’s back
underneath his long reins.
     “You’re fooling me, ain’t’cha?” Trotting to catch up,
Marc tripped over a tree root and fell sprawling. The
driver slowed Lil’ Bess and waited for him to get up, then
chirruped the reins to go on.
     “Wit ‘a gun,” he said.
     “No. No—“ Marc bored eyes into the fake-calm face,
trying to ferret out the lie. It had to be a lie. “You ain’t
gonna sit there and tell me Renny—“
     Watching the man’s face closely, Marc let his angry
query die away. It wasn’t fooling…and it wasn’t a good
186

death, either. He began to cry silently.
      The man stayed silent. It had to be a joke.
      “Renny was the…the best friend I ever had,” Marc
blurted out. “The best friend anybody ever had. You can’t
just tell me he’s dead—it ain’t funny.”
      “It’s true.”
      “How?” Marc asked.
      The old man was silent so long that he began to think
he wasn’t going to get an answer.
      “He was shot for stepping on a man’s toes.”
      “Tell me the truth,” Marc said softly. “I ain’t gonna
get you in trouble — I just want’a know the truth.”
      The driver didn’t look up. “Tha's the truth. He’d
taken the misses down to the train station and was putting
the luggage up on the platform. He stepped backward by
and stepped on a white man’s toes. They was fresh shined,
and the man was mad and mostly drunk. Renny
‘pologized — and the man told him to lick ‘em clean. He
said he'd already apologized enough and…the man shot
him.”
      “Hell,” said Marc, black tears streaking down a dirty
brown cheek. “Hell! He was the best fiddle player and the
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best friend I ever knew and you say he was just shot down
by some son-of-a-bitch like a…a nothin’ over nothin', just
like that? Did they hang him?”
      “Hang him?” the old man laughed like a bark.
“Nobody saw it happen.”
      “You just told me about it!” Marc yelled, exasperated.
      “Nobody saw it happen. There wadn’t even a trial.”
      “Ah, damn,” said Marc, kicking a tree so hard he
hopped in place for a minute. Then he looked back at the
driver—
      It still wasn’t a joke. It never would be.
      “What’s the point of even caring?” he mourned.
      “Renny had a temper,” the man said softly, like he
was speaking a eulogy. “Didn’t often show it, but he told
me that was why he was here — got in trouble in town an’
got fired from his job. He had a good job in town, but out
here he wadn’t nuthin’ but a carriage driver.”
      “And prob’ly the best man I ever known,” Marc
added.
      He trudged on in silence until the turnoff to the
Gaillard plantation.
      “Yer missin’ yer turn,” Marc muttered.
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    “I’ll take your girl on up to the drive,” said the driver.
    “You don’t need to—it ain’t but a step,” said Marc,
waving him down to a stop. He didn’t feel like taking any
more favors.
    “Suit yourself,” the old man said, drawing up the
horses.
189

Chapter 21

     Dwarfed under tall white columns, Marc led Cherry
up to the carved wooden door and tapped the knocker. It
used to fill him with awe on the rare occasions when he
used it—most of the plantations's comings and goings
happened through the back—but today the door didn’t
impress him…it just depressed him. It was so purely
whitewashed, so clean and grand—
     Cherry’s troubles, his own…nothing. They wasn’t
beans to a man cut down at his prime, for nothing. He
remembered that Renny had a wife and kids. He could tell
them — what? What was he going to tell them to make
them cheer up?
     I could tell them I killed the bastard who done it. It
wouldn't help them any, but it’d make me feel better.
     The door was opened by a tiny, tow-headed boy of
about five years old. “Missus ain’t in,” he said.
     “Good,” Marc said, letting out a deep sigh. “Is Miz
Ida in the kitchen?”
     His answer came fast enough. Miz Ida came out,
checking on her grandson. At a first sight of Marc, she
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called out in French, “Little Marc Corbeau! I haven’t seen
you in—how long? Why didn’t you warn us?”
      “Didn’t know,” he said. “Who’s this fellow, the
butler?”
      “My grandson Arthur,” she said proudly.
      Marc remembered his manners faster in his
grandmother’s house than he would have in the city.
Switching to English, he introduced Cherry.
      “Dear, dear,” worried Ida, wrinkles pulling tight from
her puckered mouth all the way back to a black-and-white
knot of braids. “I bet you’re hungry, coming all that way.
Your Grand-mère will be back in just a minute, and then
it’ll be time for supper. You don’t mind waiting, do you?
I can fix you a little bite—
      “Can you fix us a little bath?” asked Marc.
      “Of course—you look terrible! Won’t take a minute
to pull up a pan of hot water for the little dear—I’ll put it
in my room, would that be all right, my dear? It’s just
across the hall.”
      “I’ll carry it,” said Marc.
      “Then get right on in, and I’ll pour it out right now.”
      “And me?”
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      “It’s not so cold outside—“
      “Miz Ida!” he complained. “I cain't change clothes
out there!”
      “Then I’ll give you ten minutes in the pantry with a
pan of water, and I won’t promise you someone won’t
walk in on you”
      He lugged the heavy pail into the bedroom and poured
out a washbasin for Cherry. A good time and place for
teasing…but he didn’t have the heart to, somehow.
      She stopped him with a hand on the arm. “What is
she like, your Grandmother?”
      “Huh? Oh…she’s beautiful. And sharp. She don’t
like lying, or stealing, or any sort of meanness — and she
won’t tolerate it neither in her presence or out. Watch your
grammar, and you’ll be all right.”
      “My what?”
      “Your grammar,” he said. She still looked puzzled.
      “Don’t say damn,” he explained.
      “Oh!” she said, much relieved. “I can talk real good if
I try. Is that really…all?”
      “You ain’t done nothing wrong,” he said, slinking out
the door.
192


      *

      Cussing the lukewarm water, Marc made record time
with his washing in order to get back out to the piano in
the music room. But his new pages of Chopin, somewhat
the worse for wear, didn’t seem the right thing for a day of
misery piled on misery. That fellow had seen despair —
about the only books Marc had ever read voluntarily were
the lives of the composers — but the despair didn’t show
in these pieces he was playing.
      He played from memory instead, making up a dirge—
a requiem for Renny--out of snips of opera from his past.
He couldn’t have read any music anyway—you couldn’t
read anything with one eye half-closed and tear fogging
the other.
      He didn’t pay any attention when Cherry come back
out and sat timidly at a hard chair near the piano. Once
upon a time—a long time ago--it would have made him
laugh to see her wide-eyed stare, her amazement that so
much music could come out of nowhere.
      The piano had four keys out of kilter. He longed to
193

tune it, but hated to waste time wrestling up the tools. So
he went on to transposing a set of spirituals to A minor…
this avoided most of the jarring disharmony of strings a
half tone off.
      Cough — Grand-mère was there! Jittering off the
bench, Marc stood up and tried to squeeze out a pleasant
smile.
      It died before it left his lips.
      Grand-mère’s hair was whiter than ever before. It
was pinned back so tightly that it barely showed up under a
black straw hat with a white corsage on the brim. She
seemed shorter, too, but the severity in her eyes was sharp
enough to make a brave man cringe.
      She had a man and woman with her — nobody he
knew. They were smiling politely, puzzled.
      “What a pleasant surprise,” she said in perfect
English. Her eyebrows streaked upward, like an accent.
“Mrs. Witherspoon, may I present my grandson, Marc
Corbeau? Mr. Witherspoon?”
      Marc bowed to them both, muttering something and
frantically thinking how to introduce Cherry. He supposed
it would be to Grand-mère first, but in English what were
194

the words? He didn’t remember ever speaking to Grand-
mère in English before.
     “M-madam grandmother, this is Cherry Hunter. Miss
Cherry Hunter,” he improvised.
     “Most delightful,” murmured Grand-mère. “Will you
be able to stay to supper, Miss Hunter?”
     “Yes,” said Cherry. She was white as a ghost; a
trembling ghost.
     “Your playing is impressive,” said the lady — Mrs.
Witherspoon.
     “Thank you, Madame,” Marc said automatically.
“There are four notes out of tune and I was trying to work
around them. Grand-mère, may I tune it later? Is there a
place where I can get a screwdriver and a strong back to
help me move it away from the wall? I’ve a tuning lever
in my bag.”
     “That can wait,” said Grand-mère. “I am gratified to
hear that you can tune a piano — it is always good to know
an honest trade when you are in need to support yourself.”
     He winced. How’d she know? She couldn’t know—
yet…
     “Supper will be ready in a second,” said Grand-mère,
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sweeping gracefully down the hall. “May I show you to
the washroom, Mrs. Witherspoon? Sir?”
      The lady assented gratefully. Following behind, Marc
put a hand on Cherry’s arm. She really was shaking.
      “She won’t bite you,” he whispered. “It’s my head on
the block.”
      “She’s so very…grand,” she said, almost inaudibly.
      “That she is,” he said. Too grand to care that a
master musician had been killed for a trifle…too lofty and
supreme. It would be beneath her notice, just as her
friends there might have been one of the many people who,
“didn’t see nothing.”
      He couldn’t believe it of Grand-mère, though. She
would have seen something…or would she?
      He sat through a dinner of torture and ate a meal that
was dry as dust in a bitter mouth. Glancing across to
Cherry, he watched her take a bite of chicken pie and then
gasp, looking down at her plate. Her fork moved again
and again—one step short of a gobble.
      Marc ate four bites and gave up, thinking about the
time when he and Renny caught an eight-pound catfish and
ate it all in one sitting, fried up hot on a campfire.
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     “I’m sure the countryside was bland and bare,
traveling so far,” said Mrs. Witherspoon to Cherry.
     “Oh, yes,” said Cherry. She moved her lips but no
further sound came out.
     “A man from Gaillard‘s gave us a ride out from
town,” Marc said. “ Grand-mère did not say where you are
from, Madam? Around here?”
     “We bought the old Rosewood plantation,” said Mr.
Witherspoon.
     “From Mrs. Sally—or, I hope she didn’t pass on?”
said Marc.
     “She wanted to move to town. The old place was
getting too much for her, poor dear. She couldn’t do
enough to help us settle in,” said Mrs. Witherspoon,
warming to the gossip. “Do you know she….”
     A line of music—Renny’s music--danced through
Marc’s head and he lost track entirely of what she was
saying. But now that she was started, she didn’t need
much help to keep the conversation going through the
entrée. Then he asked a question about her children and
got out of talking for the duration of desert and an after-
dinner coffee au lait.
197

      “…no, we must be going.”
      Marc woke up and realized he hadn’t been asleep—
just staring at the lace-edged curtains of a closed window,
thinking of all the songs he and Renny had sung together,
all the hours of fiddling and dancing….
      He stood up and said the polite things…and felt the
hard lump in the back of his throat choke out any chance of
a swallow. When the door closed behind the guests’
backs, he just stared at Grand-mère’s dress hem and
couldn’t think of anything to say.
      “Miss Hunter, if you’d be so kind as to wait ten
minutes, I’ll speak to my grandson in the office. And then
we’ll see about getting you a room made up. I’m sure you
must be tired.”
      Cherry seemed tongue-tied for good. Marc followed
Grand-mère down the hall and waited while she lit a lamp.
      “Come,” she said sharply, pulling him into a tiny
library. Its walls were lined with books and the musty
smell of old paper almost made him sick.
      Marc just wanted to have it over with. “I brought
Cherry to ask if you could give her a job. She needs one.”
      “Why?”
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      “She hasn’t anyone to take care of her. She’s a…” He
hadn’t rehearsed this speech and decided to fall back on
the truth — as much as needed to be told.
      “She came over from England and the man who paid
her passage was making her steal and give away favors to
men so they’d buy his cigars. She had to run away or go
on living like that.”
      “So you helped her run away.”
      “Yes, I had to. You couldn’t stand by and watch that
and she — she didn’t have enough gumption to do it on her
own.”
      “And you know this story is true?”
      “I saw it!”
      Her lips drew a line as thin as her deepening
eyebrows. She hesitated before speaking, sitting as still as
a nun in mass.
      “I thought that the city would be the best place for
you, where there are music teachers and musical events to
attend. But instead of improving yourself with the
opportunity, the company you keep is the worst, and all I
hear from Henri is that you fight, pursue low behaviors and
frequent the worst of society. The poor boy is at his wit's
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end, not knowing what to do with you. You don’t seem to
know the difference between truth and lies, and now—“
      “I haven’t done anything wrong!” Marc said, fighting
to keep from jumping up in his seat.
      “This young lady is indebted to a person, and
whatever wrong he may have done should have been
reported to the authorities. In helping her run away, you
are committing a criminal act and you are stealing from
this man. In bringing her here, you are making me — and
all of my people — accessories to your crime. Right now,
even right now, the sheriff could walk in and detain us all.
You don’t think, do you? Do you know that I could be
sent back to France; everything seized; all of my people
here dismissed without cause?”
      He didn’t want to jump up anymore. Staring at his
fingers…at the dirt crusted in the cracks of dry skin…he
listened to the silence intensified by a distant clock ticking.
      “Does Henri know you are here?”
      “Yes…I left him a letter. He will know by now.”
      “But he won’t worry, would he, and kind Marguerite
won’t cry in her sleep, wondering what she did wrong that
you’d run away from the people who cared for you?
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     “But I left a letter!”
     “And you are sure that they found it?”
     “No. I see that…she can’t stay. I guess I’ll go now,”
he said, suddenly tired to his bones. Go somehow.
     “Where will you go?”
     “I’ll take her...somewhere…until I can find a job,” he
said wearily.
     “Marc, why are you doing this?”
     Marc just shook his head. He didn’t really know why,
anymore.
     “What does she mean to you?” Grand-mère said
sharply.
     “Nothing…I just want to get rid of her,” he admitted.
“She asked me for help, and I said I would and…and I
will.”
     He did stand up, that time, and stumbled toward the
door. Realizing how rude that was, even though the
burdensome fog in his thoughts, he turned back to say
good-bye.
     “I beg your pardon, Madam,” he said. “Thank you for
supper.”
     “Don’t be ridiculous, Marc,” she said briskly. “She
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can stay — if she can do honest work — and as for you…”
      “Yes, Grand-mère?”
      “You will be back on the train tomorrow morning.”
      ”Thank you,” he breathed, feeling the vague unrest of
his thoughts settle down to the tired lump in his throat. “I
have a return ticket to use for any train later than three in
the afternoon.”
      “You will go in the afternoon, then. And you will
take a letter back to Henri,” she said, standing up. “If,
indeed, he can tolerate your behavior any longer, which
would surprise me.”
      “Thank you,” he repeated, stepping away from the
door to let her go by. “Grand-mère, if you saw a man mur
—“
      Catching himself in time, he followed her out of the
door.
      “I beg your pardon?” she asked.
      He asked a different question. “Why are you taking
her on, knowing that she’s running away from her
service?”
      She gave him a cool glance from severe black eyes.
“Is it truth that you have told me?”
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     “Yes, every word.”
     “Then why would I turn her away?” she said.
“However thoughtless and unkind were the actions that
brought her here, I would not turn her away to the chance
of mercy from strangers.”
     Grand-mère not accusing him of thoughtlessness was
somehow more biting than Grand-mère accusing him.
     Marc cringed. She would not be a person who did not
see murder…but he felt like one.
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Chapter 22

      Tired as he was, Marc’s head hit the pillow and his
eyes flew open. There was no sleep in his thoughts.
      After an hour spent thumping the pillow, he stood up
and began to pace the room. Too small—
      In a minute he was outside, racing down the road
toward town. There was nothing there to head for…he’d
forgotten to put on shoes. Standing on one foot, he
inspected the damage.
      One toe was cracked and bleeding from a leftover
thorn of summer. It had survived the winter’s decay to end
up as a jab in his toe…pretty useless. Dead people
vanished faster.
      He turned and ran in the opposite direction, unable to
outrun the memories. He ran for a long, long time.
      When he finally returned to the house, his body was
exhausted enough to bully his brain into delirium. For a
few short minutes….
      At breakfast Grand-mère quizzed Cherry on her
abilities and talents, finally taking her away to the
housekeeper for indoctrination. Marc wandered out the
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side door alone.
     He tracked down Tad, Grand-mère’s handyman.
     “Can I get a couple of screwdrivers and some old,
heavy scraps of felt?” Marc asked. The young black man
looked him over suspiciously, obviously not trusting him
with the tools.
     “I can do it, if you’ll tell me what needs doing,” he
said, holding his hat in front of body like a shield. He was
hardly older than Marc, but he moved with a grave dignity.
     “Sure,” said Marc, grinning. “Tune the piano in the
hallway.”
     “Wha—?” the young man goggled. “I cain't do that!”
     “Well, I can. You either loan me the tools to do it or
you do it, take yer pick.”
     “I’ll…I’ll carry them up for you,” said Tad.
     And keep an eye on them in the meantime, Marc
sniggered to himself.
     He took advantage of the man’s hovering to get help
pulling the instrument away from the wall and opening up
the top. With only a few strings out of whack, moving the
cabinet was the hardest part of the job.
     “Listen up and I’ll learn you how to do this,” said
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Marc. “I’ve got two strings out of three padded with the
felt so they can’t sound, now I’m going to play this fifth.
A and E—how’s it sound to you?”
      “Dunno.”
      “Perfect. Hear how it sounds when I tune the E down
a half tone. Better?”
      “No, worse?”
      “Exactly right. It was right to start with. Now I put it
back right—tell me when it’s back…and move the lower
set of felts up to the next fifth—B. It’s harder, because it’s
higher. How’s it sound?”
      “Good?”
      “No, bad. Keep listening and you’ll hear the
difference.”
      The puzzlement in the young handyman’s face told
him than Tad wasn’t hearing the sounds the way he was.
Maybe it would come in time…
      “Now check with the B an octave down—move the
felts—yeah, that’s good. I’m cheating a little because it’s
mostly good—I’m just doing the octaves to double-check.“
      “What’re the felts for?”
      “Every note above that low A is a triple string. You
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pick out one of the three and tune it, then you go back later
and check the other two of the trio, for every change you
make.”
     It didn’t take long, even when he went on to check the
upper octave.
     “Did you know Renny Dawson?” said Marc, finishing
up and closing the lid.
     Tad looked away, closing his lips into a sulk.
     “Well, did you know him or didn’t you?” said Marc,
staring him full in the face until the heavy-lidded eyes
rolled up, catching his and dropping to the floor again.
     “Yeah.”
     “Do you know the name of the man what kilt him?”
     Looking him over closely, Tad shook his head. A
brief, tight shake that gave nothing away.
     “Does Claire still work for Mrs. Gaillard?” asked
Marc.
     “Why you so…set on knowing it?”
     Sheez, why was it always so hard? Marc swallowed
back a smart-off reply and spoke low, to keep from
hollering. “’Cause I want to go see her.”
     The boy’s face tightened into a sour grin. “Yeah, you
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do that. She moved out to a little house by Bayou Francis,
just one house down the road from the boat landing there.”
      “De Chien road?” asked Marc.
      “Yep. You going to go talk to her?”
      “Yep,” said Marc, handing back the screwdriver. He
hadn’t needed it after all.
      “Careful she don’t take your head off,” said Tad,
speaking over his shoulder as he vanished out the door.
      Marc stared after him, cussing under his breath. There
was no sign of Grand-mère or Cherry returning, so he
slipped down the hall, checking his pocket for a watch
he’d owned for a number of years. He didn’t keep it
wound, but when he did wind it up, it still kept perfect
time.
      It wouldn’t take a half-hour to walk down to Bayou
Francis and he had a whole day to kill before the late train
took him back to final judgement.
      His own transgressions seemed petty and far away, in
this land of heavy oak and mourning draperies of moss.
He stared at an overhanging branch and wondered if it had
ever sported a hanging noose, swinging back and forth
slowly in the oppressive heat of summer.
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    But it wasn’t summer — only a cool, faint spring.
Tiny frogs were peeping…and he longed for a world in
which he could only hear their gentle music, nothing more.


      *

     It wasn’t this world. Waking from an impossible
daydream, Marc approached the house without noticing it
in particular. It wasn’t any shabbier than its neighbors, but
it was set way back like it wanted to fall into the bayou.
     Lots of these cabins had little docks out back, easing
the path to a watery highway. But on this one a wide,
comfortable porch spread all around the house and merged
into a fishing pier over the water.
     She probably has a new man already, he muttered.
Nice house — by poor widow standards.
     “Wha’dya want?” said a child’s voice — almost over
his head. He craned his neck skyward.
     A pair of dirty brown legs dangled over his head. The
owner wore a red calico dress that hit just below the
knobby knees—she was growing out of it in length but not
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width, he guessed.
     “Miz Claire Dawson,” Marc said.
     She climbed down to eye level but didn’t go on to the
ground. Nine or ten years old, he guessed…but he’d never
seen a nine-year-old with such steady eyes.
     “Mama’s inside,” she said. “I’ll git her.”
     The girl jumped down and ran in like she was playing
a catch me game. He longed to run after and just be a
cousin come to visit from far-off parts. He might even be
coming home—
     “Him!” said the girl, pointing at him.
     The woman stepping out was prettier than average.
She was old but not near as old as Renny had been.
     “Good morning, Miz Dawson. I heard about it.”
     “I’m sure you did,” she said proudly.
     She recognized him easy. She stood stiff in the
doorway, not relaxing a muscle for him to read emotion.
Her hair was pulled back in a red kerchief; her calico dress
was patched but clean and eased smoothly to the floor.
She had the same steady, deep eyes that the little girl
had…only her eyes weren’t playing any games.
     “I wanted to…ask you—I’m sorry, I ain’t told you yet
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why I come.” Marc was shaken up, and not really
knowing what he’d come to say. “Can I come in?”
      “I don’t see no reason for it.”
      “Yeah, but can I?”
      “Sit down, then,” she said angrily, thumping open the
door and moving away to let him in. The girl followed
him, backing up against a wall and watching every word as
it left their mouths.
      The main room had a rickety table with a handful of
handmade cane chairs around it. Marc sank into one,
hoping the woman would take the one opposite him.
      She didn’t.
      “Look, I come because I was his friend. I mean he
was my friend — I never done nothin' for him, but he sure
did a lots for me. I just heard and—I’m sorry.”
      “Why, thanky. That’ll make him a lot less dead,” said
the woman, leaning back against the worktable that was set
against the wall. It was loaded with sweet potatoes, sorting
out from winter storage.
      Marc stared at her, trying to think of an opening.
Gosh, she was pretty for an old girl — her hair was curly,
not kinky, and showed a clear French blood in her perfect,
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aquiline nose. Her full lips were all Negro, as was her
color…a dark coffee without cream or sugar or any
softening at all.
     “Nothing I can do, so I won’t make you hurt more by
talking about it,” he said, rising suddenly. “But I wanted
to give you this—“
     Jamming his hand in a pocket, Marc pulled out the
watch—a fine one, plated gold; freshly wound and set.
     She didn’t make any move to take it, so he dangled it
up in front of her face, showing her the back of it.
     “Renny carved it there — and then he give it to me
when I went off to N'yawlins. He wanted me to…
remember him or something.” Marc’s voice died off and
he revived it with an effort. "I only had a gold franc to
give him.”
     The little girl’s eyes went wide. “He left that to you,
mother — in the treasure box!”
     “Hush! The woman stood straighter, eyes burning as
red coals. “If he gave that to you — and you didn’t steal it
— then you ought to keep it. Or are you ashamed to own
it?”
     Marc stood silent, dangling the watch on its chain.
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      “You keep it, if you ain’t afraid it’ll turn you into a
nigger-loving bastard,” she said, laughing at his wince.
      He waited out her silence, then spoke so soft that the
little girl moved forward, wanting to hear.
      “It’s precious to me, and I’ve kept it all this time
because it was a gift from a good man. The best man I
ever knowed. But you kin have it, if pawning it will keep
you from hurting for food.”
      “Ain’t hurting,” she said, jerking up her chin.
      His eyes wandered around the room, measuring the
prosperity. There was a man’s shirt ready for mending,
spread out on the table. All those sweet potatoes…and
there were no puddles inside from the sprinkle of rain that
fell this morning, so the roof was good…and the river full
of fish behind.
      “I guess not,” he said, turning to go.
      Exchanging a wide-eyed stare, the woman and girl
followed him out on the porch.
      He turned back with a sudden jerk—so fast it made
them both jump. “Hey! You know the name of the man
that done it?”
      “Yes,” she said slowly. “Jack Rimmer. Works in the
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rice mill when he ain’t drunk. What’s you goin’ to do with
him?”
     “Kill him.”
214

Chapter 23

      “Freeman will give you a ride this afternoon,” said
Grand-mère. The dinner table was set sparsely—chicken
en casserole, rolls, and a small dish of baked beans for
each.
     “Thank you,” Marc said. He looked around the table
and was silent. They were dining with the foreman and the
sales manager for Grand-mère’s business; the men kept the
conversation busy enough with rice futures and the cane
market.
     Cherry was tongue-tied as usual, picking delicately at
her food and avoiding the friendly, lingering glances of the
men. She’d been dressed in a starched, white apron over a
dull brown skirt. Still glowing, even dressed like a
scullery maid.
     Marc caught her eye and was rewarded with a smile
so bright that it made him back away. No more.
     Food was tasting better…until he seasoned it with the
bitterness of the black woman’s scorn. She wouldn’t stop
hating him even if he killed that man — Jack Rimmer —
but he’d do it anyway. How would he do it?
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      “Playing in concert this Friday,” Grand-mère was
saying. Marc jerked his head up.
     “Yes’m,” he said.
     “I asked you what was the reason?” she said severely.
     “Oh…my teacher Monsieur Benet…he wanted me to.
Dunno why.”
     “Don’t know why,” she corrected. “Does he have any
plans for more?”
     “I don’t know,” said Marc.
     “And has Henri made any further plans for school?”
     “Ah, that ain’t necessary!”
     “If you can’t get through school, you can’t go on to
any college. No matter how your playing turns out.”
     “I don’t really want to,” muttered Marc, shying away
from the amused stares of the two older men. They
thought he was a spoiled grandbaby who would never do
an honest day’s work in his life.
     “It’s not like I could go to the Vienna conservatory,”
he added.
     “You might,” she said. Dismissing him with a turn,
she faced Mr. Doughan. “Now, Sir, please explain this
newfangled idea about curing cane.”
216


      *

     Marc took the opportunity to slip to the piano after
dinner. Grand-mère was occupied with business and he
had an hour to kill until three o’clock.
     Time to learn the Chopin—
     “What?” he said grumpily, distracted by a pull on the
sleeve.
     “You’re really going, ain’t you?” asked Cherry,
twirling her apron strings around in her fingers.
     “Yep. I told you.”
     “I like it here, you know. Thank you for bringing
me.”
     “What’ll you be doing?” he asked.
     “Maiding, and learning the mending. It won’t be hard
work. Would you go for a walk with me before you
leave?”
     “Well, I…” Marc looked at the keyboard, glimmering
in well tuned—finally—black and white glory to be
explored and exploited and made to suit his own
thoughts....
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      “Please?” She leaned up against him, resting her chin
on his shoulder.
      “A…quick walk?” he said.
      “If that’s what you want,” she said, seizing him by the
arm and hastening him out the front door.
      Outside, she breathed easier.
      Marc yanked his eyes up from the entrancing motion
of a tight-fitting bibbed apron over a sweet, budding
bosum.
      “You’ll have lots of company here, and it’ll be lots
better than what you left.”
      “I feel like they’re all…looking at me,” she said,
glancing behind them.
      “They are! You’re a peach, like I said before. And
you’re new. Surely you’re used to being looked at.”
      “I guess so,” she said, sighing. “Marc, I want to…
before you go…thank you.”
      “What?” Marc said, shaking off impatience. He
wanted to get back to the piano, but it was clearly
something important to her, that was so hard to say.
      “Can’t we go someplace alone?”
      “Oh!” he said, getting her drift. “Cherry, you don’t
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need to thank me any more.”
      “I want to. And I said I would, just like you said
you’d help me.”
      “That’s all over now,” he said, stroking her pinned-
back hair and wishing it was loose again.
      “If you don’t like me anymore…” she said, getting
teary-eyed.
      “Don’t you dare—“ he said, trying to snap off the
tears while they were still under the surface.
      It didn’t work.
      “Course I want to,” he said. She dried up the tears so
quickly that it was suspicious. “But out here, you can be a
good girl again.”
      “I will, after today.”
      Marc felt confused to the core. All the emotion of the
last few days — all of the pain — and this one simple
escape. Right in front of him.
      “Let’s go to the woods over behind the old slave
quarters,” he said quietly, slipping a hand under her arm.
      Her arm tensed up immediately — and not with
delicious anticipation, either. Clearly--she hated it. Hated
anything he might do with her.
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     “Or not,” he said, letting go. “I’m going to cuss
myself for a fool the rest of my life, but I ain’t going to do
it. One of these days you’re going to hear something real
bad about me, something bad I’m going to do, and I want
you to be the one person in the world who won’t believe
it.”
     “What’re you going to do?”
     “You’ll find out.”
220

Chapter 24

     It was late when he arrived back in New Orleans, and
the walk out to the house made it later. He snuck in
through the lean-to door to the kitchen — it was always a
safe approach. He could get a feel for the atmosphere
within—
     Louisa gave a little shriek, staring at the slow-opening
door.
     “What are you doing in here?” he hissed. “It’s most
ten o’clock.”
     “Mama sent the servants off to bed and then they
asked for a snack of cheese and crackers. So she sent me
to get it — only I don’t know where to look!”
     “Bottom shelf of the pantry — makes it easy for the
cat to keep watch. Crackers are in that sealed tin box at the
door.”
     “Thanks, Marc,” she said, setting out a tray and
fussing around in the kitchen like she’d never seen a
kitchen before.
     He pitched in and helped her set up the tray.
     “You look awful!” she exclaimed. “Like you ain’t
221

slept in days—and you’re all bruised—“
     “It ain’t important,” he muttered, thinking of Renny.
Nothing Renny could do but sleep.
     “Why’d you have to do it? Papa’s been so worried—
and Ma--”
     “How’s it looking?” he interrupted. “Is it safe for me
to show my face?”
     “Oh! You don’t know! Oh, Marc — there’s a man
here and he says — he says—” She stopped and fumbled
around with the tray, rearranging crackers from one end to
the other.
     “Well, what?” said Marc, exasperated. “And what
about me running off?”
     “They’re real upset about that. And Papa — he
knows you told a lie, Marc.”
     “Is he going to let me play in the concert tomorrow?”
     “Yes — that’s what I’m trying to tell you. This man
came, and he asked about you and he said he’s your
father!”
     “Father’s here?”
     “You know him?”
     “Of course I do. I ain’t seen him since I was ten.
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What’s he doing here now?”
      “They’d been writing—don’t let on you know, will
you? Because I’m not supposed to know.”
      “Been listening at doors again?’
      She made a mouth at him. “They’d been writing —
oh, every few months or so I guess, because he knew all
about what you were up to. And he’d heard about the
concert and come to hear it.”
      “Wow,” said Marc, amazed at this strange turn of
events.
      “Ain’t that exciting?”
      Marc’s face made a slow frown. “He left my mother
before she — she — you know. Before she needed him. I
don’t see a whole lot to be excited about.”
      “You come with me,” said Louisa, suddenly. “And
I’ll present you — only — wipe off your forehead there —
and straighten your collar.” She gave him a quick brush up
and hurried him down the hall.
      No hope for a slow approach — Louisa flung the door
back with a bang and announced, “Here he is!”
      Being the center of four pairs of curious eyes, Marc
unconsciously assumed the stage walk that he’d learned so
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well in the opera of Paris. Casual but not slouchy, he
advanced to the center of the floor and gave a short bow.
     “Good evening, Sir,” he said to the newcomer, then
turned all attention to his Uncle and Aunt. “Sir, if I might
speak with you privately later—“
     “Do you know who this man is, Marc?” said Uncle
Henri. The tight line of his moustache seemed etched into
his face.
     “Yes,” Marc said, not bothering to glance at his
father. He’d seen all he needed to see in the one look —
nothing. The man was still faceless--a cool, urbane man of
society, with no real emotion in the smooth-shaven cheeks.
The well-tended skin hadn’t acquired a wrinkle of worry;
the soft, white hands hadn’t found a callus from any sort of
manual labor--or any labor.
     “Then please tell us all what you have to say. No
doubt he is as concerned with your welfare as we are.”
     Something about the way Uncle said that sounded
funny. But there was no way to guess what discussion
might have gone on before he came in — Marc looked at
Aunt Marguerite to speak to. Hers was the only face that
seemed sympathetic.
224

      “I wish to beg pardon for telling a lie in front of you,
Uncle Henri, and for going off without asking leave. It
seemed the only choice I had and the girl’s life depended
upon it. I have a letter here from Grand-mère.”
     He ventured a glance at Uncle Henri — and was
shocked at what he saw.
     “You didn’t tell a lie in front of me,” said Uncle
Henri, in a voice so low it was menacing. “And I wasn’t
aware there were any lives in danger.”
     “The priest says it is better to die than to live a life of
sin—“
     “Marc, how could you?” said Aunt Marguerite. She
had tears in the corner of her eyes — ten times worse than
the worst whipping.
     It wasn’t worth it. He shut his mouth and decided not
to open it again.
     Uncle broke open the seal of Grand-mère’s letter and
scanned it quickly. It appeared to say nothing worse — the
grim disappointment in his mouth remained, but he folded
the letter away briskly and raised his head.
     “You will play in the concert tomorrow, then we will
see about a plan for repatriation of the wrongs you have
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done.”
     “Thank you, Sir,” Marc said, not really caring.
     Renny’s death made all the difference. He would add
one more offense to the sins of lying, stealing and running
away, and then there wouldn’t be a need to face the pain in
Aunt’s eyes ever again. He’d play in the concert, then
leave tomorrow night — to go back to Thibodeax and
commit murder.
     And then be free… to spend the rest of his life alone.
     “I’m sorry,” he said to Aunt Marguerite. “May I go
and practice now, so you won’t be more disappointed in
me?”
     “Run along,” she said, nodding sadly. “Louisa,
weren’t you—“
     “Oh!” said Louisa, pushing past him to get out the
door and fetch her tray. “It’s all ready!”
     “Stay a minute, son,” said Father, clearing his throat
noisily. “I didn’t expect to see you under such unpleasant
circumstances, but I did wish to say that I’m happy to see
you.”
     Turning back to the audience, Marc stayed by the
door. No reason to encourage this pitter-patter, he
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thought sourly, burying the curiosity that he felt ashamed
to admit.
      “Mr. Corbeau says that you are very advanced in your
musical studies, to the point where no one here is still able
to teach you.”
      “That’s true,” said Marc, enjoying the man’s reaction
to a simple statement of fact.
      Louisa set her tray down with a clatter and he
suddenly realized how hungry he was.
      “Please, help yourself, Mr. Vincent,” said Aunt
Marguerite. “And Marc, you look hungry.”
      He swallowed and felt a lump in his throat as large as
a watermelon. Only Aunt would’ve noticed a thing like
that...and he wouldn’t be seeing her much longer after—
      After he became a murderer. I’ve got to be careful
how I do it — else I’ll be hanged instead of getting away.
Hanging meant slow suffocation…then darkness.
      “I beg your pardon, Sir?” he said. Some one had been
speaking while he’d been walking slowly up to a white
noose, watching it swing in a cold wind.
      “He also says you support yourself with a job at the
hotel musical show. How do you find time to practice?”
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     “I lost my job,” Marc said.
     Louisa gasped. “How? You loved it there!”
     “Fighting with the manager,” he admitted. “I can’t go
back.”
     He didn’t dare look at Aunt’s face again. “I’ll find
another one,” he said; then remembered that he wouldn’t.
     “I’d have thought he’d be going to school instead of
working, at this age,” said Mr. Vincent to Uncle Henri.
     “We were discussing sending him to the Academy at
Saint Frances in the fall,” said Uncle.
     “Can’t I please go practice now?” asked Marc.
     “Go,” said Uncle Henri, forestalling Mr. Vincent’s
next word. Mr. Vincent gave him an annoyed glare, but
stayed silent.
     Marc heard them say, over his shoulder, “Won’t you
spend the night here, Sir? We’d be pleased to have you.”
     He didn’t linger to hear the reply. Louisa would take
care of all that sort of gossip—and he had a last night of
Chopin to enjoy.
228

Chapter 25

      “Scared?” asked Louisa.
      “Naw; why should I be?”
      They were waiting in the side room for the concert to
open; Monsieur Benet had fussed around, annoying his
students until they couldn’t stand it anymore; then he’d run
out to check on the audience. The other three students —
two had turned into three — were sitting with their parents
and music teachers, whispering or fidgeting in quiet
corners. Marc had been alone, brooding over Renny, until
Louisa sneaked back to join him.
      She stared at him and shook her head. “You’re
impossible.”
      “I’ve played it a hundred times,” he said. “I’m not
going to play any different with all of those strangers
listening to me. Who cares what they think?”
      “Aren’t you worried about what your Father will
think?”
      “He’s not much of a father.”
      “You really hate him, don’t you?” she whispered.
      “No…hate ain’t the word. Mother never really talked
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about him. He was always just there — or not there. She
liked having him around but she never seemed to care
when he left, either.”
     “Did she ask for him when she was sick?”
     “No. How’d it work out with wild Bill Thornton? I
ain’t seen you smiling or sighing, either one.”
     “Him!” she sniffed.
     “Did you kiss him?”
     “Hush! No, and I’m not going to, either. He’s a
nothing.”
     “Took up with some other girl, I reckon,” he said,
grinning.
     “How’d you — oh, I guess you’ve been talking about
me with the servants.”
     “Naw, I guessed. So why ain’t’cha madder about it?”
     “Because I don’t care,” she said, tossing her head.
     “Ah! You’ve got somebody else in your eye,” he
guessed.
     “How’d you know?”
     “Kissed him yet?”
     “No, but I let him walk me home from Miss
Minya’s.”
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     “It’s Jeff Clark!”
     “Is not,” she said, blushing and looking around.
Everyone was too consumed with their own stage fright to
notice her.
     “Gosh, I’m gonna miss teasing you,” Marc said.
     “Miss…why?”
     “Oh, nothing. If I get sent away, I mean.”
     “Have you heard something?”
     “No, but, you know. Louisa, if I were to go again…
leave again…don’t bother looking for a note.”
     “What do you mean?” she asked, alarmed.
     The door opened and Monsieur Benet began shooing
his students inside.
     “Marc,” she said, trying to detain him.
     “Go sit with Jeff,” Marc said, pushing her in front and
pointing. Jeff Clark was there, in the third row of the
audience. Marc almost laughed out loud to see her
blushing.

      *

      Stage fright, huh! he thought, walking onto the
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platform. What he felt was more like relief, knowing he
was finally going to get to play a piece through without
interruption. And on a decent piano. He stroked the ebony
wood of the concert grand and felt like he was coming
home to a long-missed friend.
     Shame on him, to be so disloyal to Uncle and Aunt’s
ancient baby grand—the thought made him grin.
     In the front row, Mr. Vincent leaned over to Uncle
Henri and whispered, “Nerves?”
     “I don’t think so,” said Uncle, shaking his head sadly.
     Marc grinned wider. How could he be nervous about
something that came as naturally to him as breathing?
     He sat down and played and thought of nothing else.
     Only when the applause burst out to smother that last
perfect note, did he finally remember that there was an
audience. Seeking out Aunt Marguerite’s eyes, he
breathed a silent good-bye.
     Father was sputtering and looking around the room,
gaping at all the applauding faces.
     He blurted out, “No idea! I had no idea! I never
dreamed — even in letters—“
     Monsieur Benet stepped up to quiet the applause as
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Marc moved over to join the other performers. He’d have
to sit though a vocal performance before he’d get a chance
to play again, but it wouldn’t be boring.
      As Louisa sat back down, he saw her new fellow
glance over his shoulder to exchange smiles. He’d have a
good time with that later.
      The vocalist’s voice made him nostalgic for Paris. It
was a challenge he hadn’t had in a long time — to write
music to fit in angles and parallels to a bass voice. Miss
Hattie’s low alto was the best he had to work with. Had
had.
      Maybe in some far-away place — San Francisco?
Maybe far away, he could find a show again. But he’d
never find a piano like this one. He sat and daydreamed
until the time to play returned.
      At the completion of the third Lieder — perfect,
controlled — and ecstatic — the crowd surged forward to
shake hands and exclaim over the music. There were
fewer than fifty people in the room but it still felt like a
pandemonium.
      When they started to break away for refreshments,
Marc nudged his way to Louisa’s side.
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     “Now’s your chance for a quiet talk,” he whispered,
standing on tiptoes to get his voice at a level with her ear.
“Wander over to the refreshment stand.”
     “No!” she rolled her eyes. “I came to hear the music.”
     “Oh, sorry,” he said, grinning.
     Father was there, patting him on the back.
     “Keep it up, keep it up,” he said heartily. “We’ll see
you at a royal command performance some day”
     “I’d rather be at the Vienna Conservatory,” said Marc.
     “Yes, Mr. Corbeau has been mentioning that as a
possibility, assuming you can get enough education to pass
a simple exam. This is as good a time as any—“ he led
Marc away by the arm, gesturing at Uncle Henri to follow.
     “Step out into the hall, so we may have a quick talk,”
Father was saying.
     Grateful to get away from the confusion, Marc let
himself be led along. No one followed their passage.
     They let the double doors behind them close quietly,
snuffing the sound down to a mild stir. Father cleared his
throat.
     “I have been in discussion with your Uncle, and he is
agreed, that you will come with me to Boston to live and
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study for a few years. We have a tutor there for my two
boys — and I expect you will get on fine.”
      The world blurred in front of his eyes.
      Uncle’s face wasn’t giving away an inch. Marc stared
at him in silence—did Uncle want him to go, or not? After
a long, painful minute, Uncle gave a brief nod.
      “You want me to go away,” Marc stated.
      “I think it would be best,” said Uncle Henri, speaking
so softly that Marc felt like a lip-reader.
      Marc swayed on his feet, wondering if this was what
it felt like to faint. Running away like he’d planned to do
was a whole lot different than—
      Being sent away.
      Sent away…and not even to the cane fields, where he
could soon return. This was halfway across the world.
      Uncle Henri—and Aunt Marguerite--really wanted
him gone. They never wanted to see him again.
      His father shook his shoulder. “Don’t look like you
just lost your best marbles, boy. You’re going to New
England, not Patagonia.”
      He paused for a laugh but didn’t get it. “You’ll have
the best teachers in the city, a concert grand in the music
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room and a season pass to the symphony….”
      “Where is this place?” said Marc, irritated that the
man’s voice was still buzzing at his ear.
      “You don’t know where Boston is?” said Father,
laughing.
      “Sure. It’s in…New York State, isn’t it?”
      “Hardly. It’s older, nobler, and grander than any
young upstart called New York. It’s a proud heritage,
you’re sharing.”
      Marc hadn’t wanted to leave Paris either…but he’d
been too heartsick to care and too young to argue. That
was four years ago — not now.
      “Thank you, but no. I’ll get a job and stay here,”
Marc said.
      “Of course you will,” Father said, laughing. It was an
irritating sound. “But you’d best give it a try, first, before
setting out on your own. Come up north for a visit. You
have two brothers that you’ve never even met.”
      “Two brothers?” said Marc, shocked. How could
Mother—
      “John Philip, he’s sixteen years old and looks just like
you, you’ll think you’re looking in a mirror. And Mark
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Edward, fourteen years old.”
      Half brothers, Marc realized. Having a half-brother
his own age, with the same name…it felt like twins.
      “Why has he got the same name as me?” he asked.
      “The naming was complete and total coincidence,”
Father said, “although I doubt that I can convince my wife
of that.” A twinge of smile on his mustache corners made
it look like he was intending to have fun trying.
      “We should be able to get underway tomorrow,” he
added.
      Marc shook his head slowly. He couldn’t run away
from…Renny's revenge…undone…but he could postpone
it…a little. Couldn’t he?
      “Get you trained up a little, and then we’ll see about
other possibilities,” said Father heartily.
      “The conservatory?”
      “Maybe; I assume they have entrance requirements.
Come now, let’s get back inside and stop fretting. Here’s
Monsieur Benet, looking for you — can’t hide the star of
the show out in the hall for long.”
      “Why now?” Marc demanded, refusing to be pulled
along by the sleeve. He stayed unmoved. “Why not four
237

years ago, when mother was sick?”
     “Settle down,” father said smoothly, smoothing it
over. “I would have come sooner if I’d known.”
     “Known what? How much money you could make
off me? How much applause you could hear?”
     ”Marc,” said Uncle Henri quietly.
     “Beg pardon, Sir.”
     “Don’t be ridiculous,” said Father, glancing nervously
at Monsieur Benet, standing near enough to hear every
word. “Come along, now.”
     “Sure,” said Marc. “I’ll come.”
     Just long enough to make you wish I hadn’t.
238

Part 2

Chapter 26



      "Wha'd'ya reckon's happening?"
      "I never seen Mother in such a state — that's all I know,"
said John.
      Mark turned curious eyes back at his Mother. She was
shredding a ragged hangnail; her eyes were focused straight
down at the braided silk rug on the floor. Her tight coil of
copper-blonde hair seemed to spit out stragglers with every
jittery jerk.
      "She gonna send him packing?" asked Mark. He looked
like a child's drawing copy of his mother — square jaw, nose
slightly uptilted, absent eyebrows over dark blue eyes. At
fourteen years old, he had the supreme good cheer of a child
with a place in the world and a dessert on the table...and never
any need to clean up afterward.
      "Maybe. He really done it this time," said John.
      "Done what?"
239

      "Dunno. Nancy said he brought a boy back. Guess he —
there he is."
      Both sets of eyes turned to the door and Victoria Stuart
Vincent rose from her seat. She disdained to shake her green
silk ruffles down into their spreading train — they scalloped the
floor in an uneven, starched circle just above her black boot
tips.
      Father was coming in, hiding a weak grin behind a hearty,
glad-to-be-home greeting. Wearing a black wool greatcoat with
a stiff-buttoned collar, he sported an incongruous sprinkling of
suntan on city-smooth cheeks.
      He nodded at the boys and stepped forward to make a
graceful bow over Mother's hand.
      But Mark only saw a boy. Stepping in to take an even
stance at Father's side, the boy showed an uncanny resemblance
to John...like John in a dark portrait, he had the same wide-set
eyes under long lashes and expressive, straight brows — except
John's eyes were steady and honest and a clear, light gray where
the boy's were steady and humorous and a deep blackish-
brown. He had the same sharp-cut nose and straight line of a
mouth, the same hint of a dimple in a pointed, mischievous
chin. John's swirls of brown hair were dyed black in this boy
240

— black with brown streaks where sun and weather had frosted
the ends.
     "Mrs. Vincent, may I present Marc Corbeau," said Father.
     Mark turned raised eyebrows to his brother, but he could
see that John wasn't taking inquiries right then. John, like their
mother, was thrown off base — his mouth was hanging open
and incapable of speech.
     Mark had a sudden memory of a quarrel overheard—
     The boy stepped forward with a perfect bow. "How do
you do?" he said, clipping the vowels clean in a soft-edged
voice.
     Mother wavered slightly, lips fighting for words.
     When the silence became uncomfortable, the boy turned to
the two brothers and repeated himself twice more. "How do
you do? How do you do?"
     "D'ya do?" echoed John.
     "This is your brother," said Mr. Vincent. "He'll be staying
with us. Now, is dinner approaching ready, Mrs. Vincent, or
shall we sit down and reconvene at a later interval?"
     "I believe it is ready," she mumbled, stepping to the dining
room door to inspect the arrangements inside.
     Mark stared at the new boy as he took in his surroundings.
241

The little parlor had been decorated with vine-draped portraits
and a rosebud-patterned rug on the polished wood floor. Vases
of hothouse flowers stood in the corners; Mother had never
tried to economize on flower purchases even though every one
of the short-lived blossoms had to be shipped into the city on
refrigerator train cars from the sunny south.
     Mark suddenly remembered--and he could hardly wait to
get his brother aside. That was the quarrel he had heard —
about a woman and an irregular alliance — and now it was in
their faces and they had a half-brother standing at the door.
     The boy's face had seemed to hide a smile of suppressed
excitement, at first, but now it had turned bland and cold in the
reflection of the family's non-welcome.
     The boy turned to Mr. Vincent and murmured an inquiry in
some gobblegook language — after a moment's boggle-eyed
surprise Mark decided it was French.
     Mother stepped back into the room. She was a new
woman then — she held her head rigidly erect above the back
of a poker-straight spine. Her eyes were glassy with
determination.
     "I beg your pardon, young man, I was distracted by the
moment," she said. "Let me now welcome you to my house. I
242

hope your stay here will be pleasant. Pleasant as we can make
it."
     The boy returned a short smile. "I beg your pardon,
Ma'am. I was just asking if I could see the piano after dinner."
     Mr. Vincent gave a reply in French but the boy only
nodded and turned a respectful face back to Mrs. Vincent.
     "And — and how old may you be?" she asked.
     "Sixteen, Ma'am."
     "Oh! Then you are John's age—"
     "He's only a little over fourteen," said Mr. Vincent, looking
up from his pocket-notebook. He'd sat down on the wide shelf
by the wall, set the notebook on his knee and started to pencil
down notes like he was planning a convention.
     The boy gave a guilty smile and nodded at the correction.
     Mother nearly smiled back. A glance at her husband sent
her finger back to tapping against tight folded arms. "I hope
you're close to Mark, then, in lessons. What school are you
going to?"
     "I haven't ever gone to school," he said, softening the
words in a minor musical key. Mark felt the pull of an
unwilling sympathy.
     "Oh! It's good the boys have a tutor...I guess you could
243

take lessons during their recitals."
     Father had jerked his head up again. "What's this
nonsense? He was in first form at Madsen academy until a year
ago — same as a prep school — admitted at twelve. Ahead of
his age. Shouldn't have any trouble."
     He turned to glare at the boy — shortly — then strode on
into the dining room and took her seat. The others sidled after.
     Mark took a careful look at his mother's face. Instead of
being annoyed at the lies, she seemed triumphant and her head
sat even higher than usual on her long neck.
     "Marc — oh my dear, we can't have two fourteen-year-old
boys in the house, named Mark — what shall we call you?
Marc Corbeau, I suppose — or — Marco! That will be
eloquent!" She beamed around the table; gracious as she took
up spoon and napkin and gestured for her boys to do the same.
     A serving girl was setting out plates of soup at the table,
but her head swiveled constantly aside, observing the
newcomer with gaudy curiosity. Almost gawking, she clattered
the bowl down at his shoulder. He turned to give her a word of
thanks — blushes covered her freckled face and she backed
away, forgetting her job.
     "If you please, I would prefer Marc Corbeau," the boy said.
244

He dealt easily with the mechanics of fine dining; spooning up
the broth with a noiseless efficiency and keeping his coat sleeve
out of the maid's spilled soup.
     "Nancy, you will please bring back a cloth for that spill,"
Mother said. "I hope the North American version of
bouillabaisse is to your liking, young Marco?"
     "I would prefer Mark Corbeau," he repeated.
     John and Mark glanced at Father — their usual referee in a
battle with Mother — but he was smiling and staring out the
window. There was nothing to be seen there but yesterday's
two-foot coating of soft snow.
     "Ahem." Mother said, "I am afraid that will just not be
appropriate. Mr. Vincent, I hope when you are settled in you
will have a chance to talk to those tenants in the city store
property. I have not seen a repair bill yet for the water leaks.
They had best not be letting that languish."
     "Leave me a note on the desk."
     "Aunt Vincent has expressly asked we pay her a call and
indicate whether we will be attending the family party next
Friday. If that would be in accordance with your wishes—"
     "Yes, yes, of course. Put it on my calendar."
     Mark sighed and dozed into his favorite daydream. It
245

carried him easily through the meat and dessert courses. Just
meeting the President, he was about to be commended for his
investigation that had tracked down the most notorious
murderer ever known in recorded history—
     Father pushed back his cake plate and stood up, beckoning
to the boy.
     "Piano's back in the music room — get John to show you
where it is."
     "Merci, Monsieur," said the boy, bowing again.
     "Let me show you where the outhouse is first," said John.
     He sprinted out the door and the other two boys strolled
after, chuckling at his haste. Mark wanted to make a rude joke
— an old favorite of the brothers — but this wasn't just family
anymore. He held it back and grinned inside.
     "Where d'ya come from?" asked Mark.
     "Paris. But I been living in N'yawlens." The boy's thin
mouth seemed to want to smile, but thought better of it.
     "Is that why you talk funny?"
     He did smile, then. "I always thought it was just Father,
who talked funny. Now I'm in a city where everybody talks
funny."
     Mark didn't like the casual way he used the word, father.
246

It was too — casual. Like it was taking for granted Mark's
acceptance of the situation.
     Not that Mark had any choice in the matter — he'd do
what Father said in any event. He'd never stand up to Father —
neither in front of him nor behind his back. But this boy didn't
know that.
     "Says he's your father, does he?" Mark asked.
     "Yeah." The boy opened the second door of the two-seater
outhouse and climbed inside, dismissing the argument.
     When John came back out--waving the air--Mark stepped
through the other door to take his place. "Stuck-up, isn't he?"
Mark said over his shoulder, not bothering to lower his voice.
     John smothered a laugh. "So what are we gonna call him?"
     "How 'bout brother?" drawled the voice behind the
outhouse door.
     "I'll go to Hades before I call you brother," muttered John.
     "Been to hell," said Marco, stepping out just as Mark
emerged too. "I'll show you the way."
     "Let's go back on in; I'm freezing my arse off," said Mark,
uneasily calling a truce. It wasn't often that Mark had seen his
older brother lose his easy humor.
     But he had a good enough reason, Mark thought. They'd
247

both heard the quarrel. Mother crying – whining — why don't
you stay away? You haven't any use for this family! You
haven't done right by one wife and sons — what makes you
think you can support a second! She must be lower than the
snakes of Satan, to put up with it, but I'll tell you this — she’s
too good for you!
     Mark was curious. Assuming this was his father's son by
the other woman, he wondered where she’d been the last three
years and where was she now. Father used to spend many
months out of every year off "abroad" — overseeing business
arrangements, Mother had said in a brittle voice — but three
years ago the trips had abruptly stopped. This recent trip had
been Father's first one away in three years; it had followed on a
whopping big fight about household arrangements that had
ended with Mother bringing on three new maids and a day-
butler.
     Mark led the boy down the hall to the music room. It was
darker than pitch in there — the hall lantern shone only far
enough through the door to spotlight a lamp and matches,
waiting just inside. As soon as Mark lit the one lamp, the boy
took the matches and lit the hanging lamp nearest the piano; he
dropped the jar of matches carelessly on the floor.
248

      "You got a nursemaid picks up after you?" asked John.
      The boy was propping up the lid of the piano. He gave a
quick flip through a shelf of music standing by the wall,
scowled at it, and took nothing. Sitting down on the stool, he
began to play without music.
      Both brothers goggled at the sound. He wasn't showing
off, now — Mark could tell that. He was just playing for the
joy of playing and he didn't give a darn if anyone was listening
or not.
      Mark had taken a year of music lessons long ago. Even
though he showed no aptitude for the keyboard, he had a keen
appreciation of music...and this music was better than anything
he'd ever heard. Even compared to the operetta that Mother had
dragged him to--the amateur performances of young cousins in
the family--even the Sunday organ solos — all had been just a
mush of disorganized noise—
      Compared to this.
      He looked over to John and mouthed, "He's good!"
      "Yeah," said John, turning back to the keyboard to gawk.
      The first piece had ended and he'd gone on playing. It
seemed less structured now and Mark believed he was making
it up. It sounded modern — it sounded like the clean-clipped
249

vowels in the boy's soft speech. After a minute it turned
thoughtful and achingly sad...Mark almost looked to the
window to see if black snow had started to fall.
      He looked at John and saw him swallowing back a gloomy
frown.
      John said, "So he can play. But that don't mean we gotta
like him."
      Father and Mother were coming through the door,
speaking in low voices. Mark's ears instinctively sharpened to
eavesdrop, but they were only talking of family.
      Mother hissed — her strident voice wouldn't permit a
murmur— "Aunt Vincent, Uncle Benjamin, Uncle Jesse, Aunt
Marilee—"
      "None of their business what I do or what I don't do," said
Father.
      "Still they have to know — imagine having them pick it up
from gossips — or worse, guess the truth." Mother gave a
discreet shudder. "Aunt Vincent will know for sure."
      No, they weren't talking about family. They were talking
about him.
      "I'll simply announce it, and that's that," said Father. "Now
listen."
250

      "He is unusually good, I'll say that," she hissed. "Such a
shame to have wasted a talent on..."
      "On what?" said Father.
      Mother jerked up her chin. "I simply mean, that given the
circumstances, it's unlikely the boy would have the discipline or
perseverance to bring the talent to its best fruition. We'll do
what we can, of course, given the material."
      Father looked like was going to spit. He walked over to
the rack and pulled down a sheaf of papers, pages of closely-
written piano notes that were way past any lessons Mark had
learned in his short year.
      "Play this," he ordered.
      The boy frowned at being disturbed, but his face had
settled into a serene concentration that couldn't be shaken. He
lined the papers up and began to play.
      Mark was sharply reminded of a young cousin's "recital"
that he'd been forced to attend. Some sonata or something—he
knew the name Beethoven but little else to place it. But the
resemblance between that and this — the resemblance ended at
the bare bones of the melody. This was the recital piece turned
into music. Every note was telling a story or singing close
harmony — every phrase was enunciated as clearly as
251

language. It sounded like a human voice leading a choir...and
the choir was sprinkled in angels.
     Mother's face had turned red.
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Chapter 27

     "What are we going to do about him?" asked John, after
breakfast Saturday morning.
     "Him? Ignore him, I guess. Not much to do," said Mark.
     "Guess so.”
     “Going out to the stables before Hambone gets here?"
     John made a show of pulling out his watch to consult it.
"Ten minutes," he said, buttoning his cuffs and pulling on a
brown wool jacket. He stepped out the door and ran smack into
Mother.
     "Will you please look before barging out the door like a
bull? Try it five more times and see if you can accomplish it
like a gentleman."
     She moved on down the hall, seeming oblivious, but Mark
knew from history that her sharp ears could count each
repetition from the close of the door.
     She turned back before his brother was finished with two
of the five repetitions.
     "Take Marco into lessons with you," she said.
     "Yes, Mother," said John, grimacing. "Where'd he go after
breakfast?” he asked Mark.
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     Mark waited while his brother closed the door, opened it
and stepped back out again. "His room, I guess. I'll go see —
while you walk in and out of doorways."
     "It'll happen to you next!" shouted John.
     Mark was back before he finished. "He's not in there."
     "Where now?"
     "Let's go ask Nancy," said Mark, winking.
     "Let's not. I ain't going round that girl for ten dollars."
     "I think you lost her. She was giving Mr. Marc Corbeau
the eye something awful, this morning."
     "Good riddance! She acts like she thinks one of us is
going to marry her for a sneak kiss round under the stairs.
Imagine marrying a girl like that!"
     Mark lowered his voice as they wandered aimlessly around
the house. Searching for the missing half-brother was making
John lose his stable time. "She ain't so bad looking. Little
plump in the pudding. Jiggles when she giggles."
     "Which is all the time. I'd be scared to kiss her. Frank
says her father would see it I did marry her. Says the old man
spent two years as a buffalo skinner back in the seventies. He's
got three daughters and wants them married to men set up to
support him in his old age."
254

     "Listen — he's in there." Mark had stopped in front of the
music room.
     When he pulled the door open, a crash of harsh triads
assaulted their ears. The noise continued on up and down the
scale, two octaves. Then up a half-tone and again, and again,
and again...
     Mark plugged his fingers in his ears and stomped on the
floor. It got the player's attention immediately.
     "What in thunder are you doing?" demanded John.
     "Doing his exercises, isn't he?" said Mark. "You
understand — got to keep the pinkies limber."
     The boy turned around slowly but didn't rise from his
stool. "My teacher always told me one of the worst things you
could do with your hands was punch someone in the face. He
advised me to stick to the stomach."
     Mark stared back for a long minute, testing the dare.
     Turning abruptly, John said, "Guess we better obey his
warning then. Mother said you're supposed to go to lessons
with us, in—" he consulted the watch—" two minutes.
     "Damn," said Marco.
     Both of the brothers jumped and glanced furtively around
their shoulders. "What a damn awful waste of time," he
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drawled, snickering at their reaction to the forbidden word.
     "Mr. Hammond's been known to assign double sections for
being late," said John.
     "Call him Hambone, he loves it," said Mark. He ventured
a grin but dropped it at the repression on his big brother's face.
He was beginning to warm to this boy — a boy who could
make that sort of racket on a normally mild-mannered
instrument, and a boy who could cuss without dropping his
voice — that kind of brother could be useful.
     Mr. Hammond was already waiting. They took their seats
in the schoolroom while he straightened his tie and sat precisely
on his hard wooden chair. The room was rustly with papers and
heavy with books; they could barely edge in sideways to take
seats behind the two student’s tables. Mark reluctantly cleared
away his books to make a spot for the newcomer.
     "Good morning, pupils," Mr. Hammond said, precisely at
nine o'clock.
     John and Mark stood to reply. Looking puzzled, Marco
straggled to his feet and said, "I pardon, I do not speak the
English." The words were almost unintelligible in a thick
French accent.
     Mark chuckled and Marco cast his eyes down, raining
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sadness across the tabletop.
     "He speaks English as good as you or I," interjected John.
     "Indeed. What is your name, Sir?"
     "Marc Corbeau," he replied, shooting a mean look at John.
     "Very well, Mr. Corbeau. We observe certain rules in this
classroom. We raise our hands for permission to speak; when
granted permission, we stand. Sit, now. You will join Mr.
Mark with the recitation for arithmetic, then you will study
page 189 through 190 and do the problems there." As he spoke
he extracted a geometry text from a shelf and set it precisely in
front of Marco.
     Marco propped his head up on a hand and stared straight
forward, not flickering even when Mark missed an answer and
Mr. Hammond gave the seated boy a pointed look, as if to ask
why he wasn't joining in.
     When the recitation was over, both boys bent their heads
over the textbooks and picked up freshly sharpened lead
pencils. After a slow start, Marco was soon scratching merrily,
juggling two papers beneath his pencil. One was a scratch
sheet and one an answer sheet, Mark deduced. He turned to the
side and leaned closer over his own papers, determined to beat
out the newcomer.
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     John's recitations were flawless. Always in mathematics
— second-year trigonometry, now — he'd been at the top of
any class. He struggled with anything having to do with
language, grammar, or spelling. And history — you'd might as
well close the book there. But he loved math almost as much as
he loved horses.
     "Turn in your papers now, and you may have a ten minute
recess," said Hammond. "What's this?"
     He was stepping forward to examine Marco's answers.
Only one sheet was out in the open now — the other had
mysteriously disappeared beneath the desktop. The remaining
page was less than a fourth covered with ragged scribbles.
     "I see answers to number one, two, four and five.
Numbers two and four are wrong. You seem to have written
two correct answers to twenty seven problems."
     "I beg your pardon, Sir. But I am not supposed to waste
your time, Sir, as I am not to be here long, so I did not like to
ask for help. I did all I could."
     "Waste my...time?"
     "Yes, didn't he tell you? I'm only to be here a few days, so
I was told to sit in on the lessons and pick up all that I could
learn from your estimable teachings...but not to have you spend
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any time tutoring me, in place of your real charges."
     Hammond turned sharply to John. "Is this true?"
     "I don't know, Sir. I hope so."
     "What were you writing all that time?" thundered
Hammond.
     "I was figuring...but they wouldn't come up right."
     "Very well. Go along!"

      *

     When Mark and John returned from a quick cup of coffee
in the kitchen, Hammond was still taking his break. He was
probably down at the outhouse.
     "Check it quick," hissed Mark.
     John turned over the paper that Marco had been scribbling
on. "It's covered with musical stuff," he said.
     "Got a problem with that?" said Marco, coming in the
door.
     Mark couldn't hide an irrepressible curiosity. "So you
trying to sneak one past old Hammond's eyes or what?"
     "What d'ya mean?"
     "You really leaving in a few days?"
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     "Father told me I would," replied Marco. "Has anybody
told you different?"
     "Sounds like a mighty easy lie to get out of doing any
work."
     "Don't matter. I ain't gonna be here more'n a few days
nohow. I'll just leave."
     "You can't. You ain't got no place to go."
     The boy's eyes were turning downright mean. Mark took a
step backward, realized it, and stepped back up with both fists
clenched at the side of his legs.
     "I'll go anywhere I want to go," said Marco. "I got people
who want to have me — my mother's folks. They didn't want to
let me go. Father had to beg them to borrow me."
     "I bet they were glad to get rid of you," said John. "I'll ask
Mother — she'll know. I bet you're here for good."
     "So go ask your mother — if you're not too scared."
     "I'm not scared of Mother," said John, puzzled.
     "No? I am. She one scary woman."
     "What the devil are you talking about?" John bristled,
doubling up fists and taking a boxer's stance.
     "I bet she scares little children in the streets. They got
witchin' women down in N'yawlens ain't nary a lot scaredier
260

than her."
       "You take that back!"
       "Claws like a wicked old buzzard—"
       John said, "Least she ain't a whore."
       Marco stood silent for a moment, sustaining a crooked grin
with no humor at all in the expression. He seemed perfectly
still, controlled--but Mark could see every muscle in John's
body tense up, shaking. Waiting for the blow that had to come.
       Marco turned suddenly—
       He's hit me — why me? Mark felt his hand rise up to his
nose. It reported wetness.
       Legs took over. He jumped forward, swinging with the
other hand.
       Marco blocked his right — blocked his best punch! — and
Mark felt a shock rise up through his whole arm. A short punch
headed to his stomach and Mark jumped back, barely feeling it
— but a second punch hit hard and he felt himself double over.
Struggling to stay fighting, he blundered forward and hit Marco
with his head, butting him to the floor. Marco’s feet twisted in
his on the way down and tripped him — Mark fell to the floor
on top of him and was hit in the face on the way down. His eye
blurred – something — a knee — whacked into the muscles of
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his thigh—
     Hovering at the edges, John was trying to get an arm in to
pull them apart.
     A stout cane appeared in the fray, hitting solid thunks to
breeches and coats.
     Ducking the blows, John was hollering, "Look out —
Hammond’s back—"
     The words penetrated where the cane didn't. Mark
scrambled back, panting and looking up through blurred vision
at the red face of Hambone. Marco struggled to his feet
immediately, but Mark doubled over every time he tried to
stand up. One leg was wobbling and a crippling side stitch
jerked him down. John jumped forward to help him, angrily
pushing aside Marco’s attempt at lending an arm.
     "Get your hands off him!" John shouted. " I said it!
What'd you go and hit him for?"
     Bent only a little at the waist, Marco was barely even
breathing hard. He waited for John to look back at him and
drawled, "Figured that would hurt you more."
     Mr. Hammond walked to his desk and waited until all eyes
were back on his face.
     "School is in session," he said. "You may take your seats."
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     John sputtered. "But he — he—"
     "You don't need a detention to add to your problems, Sir."
     Automatic obedience took over. John helped his brother to
his seat, then took his own, thumping a book open and
slamming his inkbottle down into its carved holder.
     "That will be one hour detention, Mr. Vincent."
     Mark screamed inside, echoing in sympathy with John.
However much he might hate this new intruder, Hambone was
an old, familiar enemy.
     Mark looked sideways to see how the intruder was taking
it.
     Marco seemed stunned. He had a fast-reddening bruise
across one cheek, a remnant of the tutor’s cane. It wasn’t likely
one of Mark's blows had done such damage.
     “Sir, I have spoken to your father,” said Mr. Hammond,
addressing Marco. “Your stay here will be indefinite, therefore
you will be required to take the same time and attention to your
studies as any of the students.”
     Hardly bothering to care, Mark opened up the literature
text and stared into it. The pain in his stomach was making him
sick. How in the world had the kid learned to hit like that?
     Maybe playing the piano built up arm muscles. He looked
263

over at John, considering writing a note — but John was still
scowling with rage, staring down at his desk and not even
pretending to study.
264

Chapter 28

      The torture ended at noon. Fighting the lingering side-
stitch, Mark could almost breathe normally when Mr.
Hammond’s clock pointed to freedom.
      “Saturday; half-holiday,” Mr. Hammond said to Marco.
“That gives you sufficient time to repeat today’s lessons and be
prepared for the Monday recitation.”
      Marco nodded gloomily — that was all Mark saw as he
hurried after his brother, who’d stood up and strode out as soon
as Mr. Hammond had looked at the clock.
      Knowing where he’d go, Mark didn’t need to hurry to
catch up. John’s safe refuge had always been the stable. He
caught up to him just inside the door.
      “Hey, bud, did it really make you madder to see me hit
than to be hit yourself?”
      “Yeah,” said John, measuring oats into a tin pail. “If it’d
been me, I could’ve fought back. Guess he was too big a
coward to hit me.”
      “I don’t think so,” said Mark, rubbing his side.
      “You going to work, or you just going to stand there and
yap?”
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     “Yap, I guess,” Mark replied. “How’s old Freddie doing?”
     “Worse. He’s swole up worse in the night and it don’t
look any better now.” John left the stable with a pair of empty
water buckets.
     Succumbing to morbid curiosity, Mark went in the stall to
look. Frederick the Great had a right hind leg that was swollen
up like a balloon and he hadn’t put any weight on it for two
days.
     “That’s a bad ‘un,” said a voice over his shoulder. Mark
wheeled around to look and winced at the pain in his side.
     It was Marco, leaning over the stall door.
     “Yeah — been getting worse for two days,” Mark said,
patting the big bay on the shoulder. Freddie nuzzled his ear and
Mark felt a wrench of pity. Horse couldn’t run with a leg like
that — even if the fresh grass of spring ever made it back to the
fields. The fields were covered with two feet of snow right
then.
     He looked back at Marco and saw that John was coming
into the building behind his back.
     Marco was saying, “Joe had one with windpuffs like that
— mare tore a ligament stepping into a mud hole. He treated it
with ice-cold poultices sprinkled in witch hazel leaves, wrapped
266

on in a towel and tied tight, ever half-hour all day and two
nights long.”
     “Who’s Joe?”
     “Stableman back home. He been working horses for
twenty years; he ought’a know. He made me take the morning
hours, midnight to six. Got it cleared up in two days.”
     “Maybe we ought to try it, bud?” Mark said, looking at
John. He knew John was worried sick about this horse.
     John turned away, ignoring them both and checking the
water pans in the other line of stalls.
     “Father sent me to tell ya’ to come into luncheon at
twelve-thirty, on account of some to-do he’s got this
afternoon,” said Marco, stalking out.
     He let the door bang shut behind him.
     “Why don’t’cha try it?” asked Mark.
     “On account of it’s his idea. Probably kill the old boy.”
     “He didn’t sound like he was fooling.”
     “Wish father hadn’t been too stubborn to hire on a new
stableman, when old Paul retired,” grumped John, taking a last,
somber look at Frederick the Great’s leg.
     “Hey! Let’s stop by and ask Mr. Madsen what he thinks of
the witch hazel,” suggested Mark.
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     “Yeah of course! We’ll do it on the way to town and if he
says it’s safe, we’ll do it.” John’s face looked much relieved
and his dragging steps picked up.
     “Maybe Miss Mae will come for a ride with us,” hinted
Mark, banging open the lean-to door. Marco was washing up at
the stand beside the door, so they moved back a little to wait
their turn. He ignored them.
     “She wouldn’t, would she?” said John.
     “No. But I got you to admit you’d ask her!”
     John lowered his voice. “I’m stopping by because Mr.
Madsen’s the best horseman in this neighborhood. If you want
to think otherwise, that’s your own foolishness.”
     “Maybe I’m sweet on her myself,” hissed Mark.
     “Better hurry up. I’m going to ask her to sit by me at the
social tomorrow night.”
     “Waited a little long to ask, didn’t you?”
     “Nah,” said John, taking his turn at the washstand.
     “Bet ‘cha she’s already taken,” teased Mark. “Dollar on
it?”
     The cook overheard them, of course. “Get on to dinner
and don’t go a-turning my kitchen into a racing stables,” she
chided.
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    “Yes, Mrs. Biggs,” John said meekly, winking at Mark
when her back was turned.

      *

     The last long shadows of day were patterning the snow
with branches when they returned from town. Leaving the
wagon for the stable boy to unload, they led the team into the
warm, low building and did a quick rubdown, cleaning the
spatters of ice and snow from their elegant legs.
     “I’m going to the house to fetch a doughnut, want one?”
asked Mark.
     “You know Biggsey ain’t going to let you,” said John. He
was anxious to get started with the treatment. Mr. Madsen had
agreed with it and even looked a little surprised that the boys
hadn’t thought of it sooner.
     “Ain’t going to ask her,” said Mark. He tromped
unconcerned across the snow, but avoided the lean-to door that
opened directly into the kitchen. Instead, he stepped around to
the door that opened into the back hall.
     Shaking off his boots silently, he snuck in and stepped
down the hall to the kitchen door, peeking inside.
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     Mrs. Biggs had her back to him and Nancy wasn’t in sight.
He ducked silently into the pantry and flattened himself against
the left-hand wall, well out of sight if Mrs. Biggs should turn
around.
     It was hard to move in there without knocking something
off the shelf. He edged forward…someone was talking in the
kitchen, so he felt safer.
     “You’re all over snow!” shrilled Mrs. Biggs.
     He tiptoed back to the entrance, peeking out —
     Safe! She wasn’t talking to him. He dared to breathe
again--and he pulled down a string of peppers with his sleeve.
     He didn't move--staring at the peppers on the floor and
wondering how to pick them up without making a sound.
     “You look frozen, too! Where’s your gloves — and that
coat ain’t fitten for the outdoor! It’s ten above zero out there.”
     Mark heard banging and bumping coming from the
kitchen; so the noise of the string of peppers falling couldn’t
have been noticed. He picked up the string and replaced them.
     “Sit down there and warm up. Where you been to get in
sich a state?" said Mrs. Biggs.
     “Walking…and running,” said Marco's voice.
     So it was him. Walking…what was he doing walking in
270

this weather?
     “How long have you been out there?”
     “Since dinner, I reckon,” he said.
     “Lord a’mercy! It’s no wonder you’re frostbit — can you
feel your fingers atall? And your toes? It’ll be a wonder if
you don’t lose one!”
     “Feels like pins stabbing them, is that all right?”
     Holding a doughnut in each hand, Mark edged back to the
door. The boy was sitting in front of the stove, rubbing his
fingers frantically.
     “You’re kidding, ain’t you?” he said. “They can’t…freeze
off?”
     “If they get so cold you don’t have any feeling in them,
they can,” said Mrs. Biggs grimly.
     He looked a little relieved, but only a little. He hitched his
chair up closer to the fire.
     “I heard about a man losing a foot once’t, but that was out
in the west,” he said, holding out his hands and wincing at the
pain of thawing out.
     “Those shoes aren’t fitten for snow atall! Don’t you have
the sense to wear your boots outside?”
     “Don’t have any stupid ol' clumpy boots,” he replied.
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     Mrs. Biggs poured milk into a saucepan and started stirring
it over the stove, clucking and shaking her head.
     “I bought these shoes with my own money, first week on
the job,” the boy remarked. “Guess they’re good enough for
me.”
     He couldn’t have guessed any better way to get on Mrs.
Biggs’ warm side--mention honest work. Mark chuckled
silently.
     “Marc Corbeau, isn’t it? What job did you do?” asked
Mrs. Biggs.
     “Played piano in a hotel’s musical show. I can get it back
when I go home. And I did guiding of people, ‘round the city.”
     “New Orleans, I heard, was where you lived?” she asked.
“Had you ever had experience of winter, you’d be grateful for a
warm pair of boots over doubled-up socks.”
     “It snowed in Paris,” he said. “But not like this.”
     She poured her concoction into a coffee cup and gave it to
him. He sipped, cautiously, with a face like he was drinking
medicine.
     “Drink it,” said Mrs. Biggs. “It’ll warm you up.”
     “You were kidding about the frostbit, weren’t you?”
     “No, Sir!” she said. “You be careful, next time you go to
272

walking. Or running.”
      “I hate it here,” he muttered.
      Mark wished Mrs. Biggs would go back to the stove —
it’d give him a chance to sneak away. With the boy’s face in
profile and Biggsey's pointing right at him, he’d never get out
unseen.
      “Were you running away?” said Mrs. Biggs.
      Nancy came into the kitchen and Mark flattened himself
back against the shelves.
      “Thinking on it,” Marco said. “How far is it to town,
anyway?”
      “About four miles. You didn’t try to walk it, did you?”
      “I did walk it. Didn’t see much point in staying there.
What’s the point of a thousand people when you don’t know
any of ‘em?”
      “You know us,” said Mrs. Biggs softly. Mark couldn’t
look out to see what her face was doing, but he heard the
scraping of steel on tin and a rapid clatter of burners.
      “Get me the cheese out, girl, and shred up a cup of it.
Mind you cut it small.”
      Mark froze, ready to jump for it. He peeked out the door
and saw Marco’s face, looking right back at him.
273

     Saying nothing, Marco stood up and went over to the door
to get his coat. It was opposite Mark’s exit — if only they’d all
look over at him —
     “What’s that bird, colored like a American flag?” said
Marco suddenly, pointing out the window beside the back door.
     Got it! Mark darted for the door and was gone.



Chapter 29

    No one was at the breakfast table, so Mark sat opposite the
door and opened up Last of the Mohicans in front of him.
Lining up the edges carefully, he opened a copy of Bags
O’Toole, Boy Reporter in front of it. He’d finished the Cooper
novel yesterday, but Mother and Father wouldn’t know that.
    “You’d think, after getting caught last week at the very same
trick…” said John.
    Mark jumped, almost losing hold on his books. “How’d you
see it?” he demanded.
    “Didn’t. What is it this time?”
    “You gotta read this. ‘It’s moider, that’s wot it looks like,’
274

growled Bags, running down the dark alleyway. He ducked in
—“
    “Shh!”
    Voices were coming into the little entry just outside the
dining room door. Mark jerked his books back and hid them
under the table.
    “Good morning, darlings,” said Mother, sweeping inside in a
skirt that was wider than the doorway. It took a pause and a tug
to get her hoops through. “John, you don’t look half-combed.
Be sure to look in the glass before church.”
    “Up all night?” asked Mark, noticing his brother’s dropping
eyelids.
    “Just half of it.”
    Mother gasped. “Whatever for? Don’t tell me it was
another…blessed event!”
    “No; Frederick the Great — I was treating his leg with
poultices,” mumbled John, sitting down at his seat.
    “We pay a stableboy to do that,” said Father. “If you’re
going to do it, then we certainly don’t need him.”
    “He is not going to do it,” snapped Mother. “That is exactly
what we have a boy for. Now, where is that girl?”
    Nancy bustled in, plopping a steaming platter of sausage
275

onto the sideboard and sending the serving spoons flying. Mark
reached automatically to retrieve them —
   “Leave that and go remind Marco that breakfast is served
promptly at eight o’clock,” said Mother, speaking to Mark but
glaring at the unfortunate girl.
   Slipping the two books out of his lap and onto the chair,
Mark tried to push up the chair casually. He wished the Bags
O’Toole book would fit in his pocket. Marco was sure to be in
the music room, two doors down, but Mother needn’t know
that. He could have taken time to run the book up to his room.
   At the music room he pushed open the door silently, hoping
for a chance to yell Boo!
   The piano was quiet, but Marco sat scribbling on paper,
crouched over a chair that he’d pulled up beside his stool.
   “What do you want?” he said, not looking up.
   “Breakfast. What’cha doing?”
   “Tell them I’m not hungry,” said Marco, turning back to the
piano and hitting a questioning discord. His hair was even
more rumpled than John’s.
   “I’ll probably be back,” said Mark.
   Marco turned back to the paper, sticking his pencil in his
teeth and rubbing out half of the page with an India rubber
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eraser.
   If this sort of excuse worked, he could try it next time, Mark
decided. He stepped quietly into the dining room.
   “He said, ‘may he please be excused because he’s not
hungry?’” said Mark.
   Father frowned, but barely glanced up from his newspaper.
   “We haven’t time to wait on him, I’m sure,” said Mother.
   Since Mother and Father both had their plates full, Mark
queued up at the sideboard behind John and muttered under his
breath, “If I’d known it was that easy….”
   Forgetting the books in his chair, Mark sat down--and his
legs pushed them off onto the floor with a clattery double-
thump. Jumping to retrieve them, he narrowly avoided
bumping heads with Nancy. She got her hands on them first.
   Sitting back down quickly, he held out a hand, low, to take
them from her under the tabletop—
   It was hopeless.
   “Here you are, Sir, “ she said cheerily, holding them out
together--well inside anyone’s line of sight.
   Gone were any hopes of sneaking it to church in his Bible.
   “I’ll see that in the stove, Sir,” said Father.
   “But Father, it cost fifteen cents!”
277

   “All the more reason, to teach you what to spend your
money on as well as your time. What’s that other one?”
   “Last of the Mohicans, Sir. There’s nothing wrong in it—“
   “Mr. Cooper, for all his foolish romantic attempts to nobilize
savagery, is at least a socially acceptable American author.
One of few, I might add. But as for the other, you should be
embarrassed to be seen with it. Even to throw it away.”
   “Sir, it’s only fun,” ventured John.
   “Have you, also, read this trash?” thundered Father.
   “No, but —“
   Father held out an imperious hand and Mark relinquished
the prize, scowling.
   Standing up, Father read the flyleaf out loud and sarcastic.
“’Bags’ O’Toole is on the trail again, when he tries to report the
grossly mutilated body of a lady of doubtful virtue and finds
that the ones appointed to investigate the foul crime are the
ones most anxious to silence it — and him.’”
   He stalked out and returned a minute later, rubbing his hands
together.
   Sobbing into her apron, Nancy ran past him.
   “I don’t know what we’re going to do with that girl,” said
Mother.
278

    “We might look into engaging a butler,” said Father,
pretending that the matter of the book was all settled and over.
    “I’d adore that suggestion! Possibly we can keep Nancy in
the kitchen — I’m sure she is a tremendous help to Mrs. Biggs.
But imagine how elegant — having a gentleman serving our
guests! As your father had, when I first came here.”
    “We’ll see,” said Father, looking a little worried. “His
salary would be considerably more than Nancy’s—“
    “Oh, dear!” said Mother, interrupting. “What shall I do
about the Williamses on Tuesday?”
    “Don’t know that you need to do anything,” said Father,
sinking into the pages of his newspaper again.
    Mark started cramming down food as fast as he could, to be
finished so he could leave the table.
    “Mr. Vincent, if we include…Marco…then my table will
have eleven gentlemen and only ten ladies!”
    “Invite Nancy,” said Mark, low.
    “I beg your pardon?” Mother said acidly. “Does he really
need to be included—“
    “Yes,” said Father.
    “…on such short notice?”
    “He’ll need an appropriate dress coat,” added Father. He
279

raised his eyebrows, getting an idea. “And we might have him
play afterwards.”
    Mother scraped her fork across the plate — the noise startled
Mark into looking up, but she hadn’t even seemed to notice the
racket she had caused.
    “Then I suggest you should take him to town and get him
one,” she said. “And see if you can persuade the tailor to
handle it on such short notice.”
    Mark shoved the last sausage in his mouth and begged to be
excused.

   *

   There was only time for a quick wash-up. Mark stepped
into his brother’s room and tapped a toe on the floor.
   “Coming,” said John, splattering water on his head, the floor
and the dresser. The hair was standing up worse than ever, but
Mark wasn’t in a good enough humor to joke about it.
   “Bad luck, old man,” said John; buttoning his heavy coat
and following him down the back stairs.
   “Should we get him?” asked Mark, hearing music coming
out of the big parlor door again.
280

    “Let him get himself.”
    Mother always insisted that they depart for church “in
style,” meaning out the front door. Nancy and Mrs. Biggs were
already waiting, coated and hooded against the cold. They
came to church with the family — Mrs. Biggs had been with
the family so long that she was family, and Nancy had no
family closer than town.
    Mother was arranging a thick veil across her face when
Father came into the hall, leading Marco, and she pulled back
the veil to hiss, “Those aren’t the clothes I put out for you!”
    “If you please, the coat was too short in the sleeves. I
thought it would be better to wear my old one,” said Marco.
    “It couldn’t be — you’re the same size as Mark and he was
wearing it not two weeks ago!”
    “Looks like he has longer arms, “ said Father, eyeing the
two boys critically.
    “Like a gorilla,” said Mark. He grinned to see Marco
scratch an armpit, aping a monkey — but they both stopped
short under Mother’s outraged eyes.
    Marco turned back to Father. “Sir, it would be best if I
didn’t go. There’s the coat, and I just remembered, I haven’t
been to confession.”
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    “What?” Father looked puzzled for a minute. “Of course —
I forgot. That’s won’t be necessary here — it’s a Baptist
church.”
    Marco’s mouth dropped open and Mark had the sudden
insight that he was acting. It looked real, but he guessed it was
acting--normally Marco was a lot quicker on the uptake. He
wouldn’t have shown such a violent reaction to a surprise.
    “I can’t go in a…Baptist church! It would be a awful sin!”
He backed up against the wall, eyes wide.
    “Since when were you concerned about sin?” said Father,
exasperated. “You’ll go where I tell you to go.”
    “I can’t,” said Marco, appalled.
    “And without arguing!”
    He’s certainly not a coward, Mark observed. I’d have
backed down from the anger on Father's face long before now.
    “I’d be dishonoring my mother’s memory, to go to your
church. Is that what you want?” said Marco.
    Father cleared his throat, glancing nervously around the
room. Exchanging a wide-eyed stare with his brother, Mark
looked back at the new boy with a grudging respect.
    “It isn’t going to hurt you to go in there once. Not like
we’re asking you to do communion, or whatever blasted
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nonsense it is that you people do. Just sit and listen to the
music, and next week we can drop you off over at Saint
Joseph’s.”
    “We need to be going,” said Mother, fidgeting them to the
door.
    “And Mrs. Vincent is dying to present you to her cronies, so
that she can drag you to the big musical social tonight. You
can’t miss that.”
    “What sort of music?” said Marco, moving his feet
reluctantly
    “Performances by the young ladies of the choir and a special
concert from the opera society,” said mother, ignoring Mark
and John’s joint groans.
     “Hurray,” said Marco flatly. “Father, can I have thirty cents
for music paper?”
    “It shouldn’t cost as much as all that,” said Father, wrinkling
his forehead.
     “I’m completely out,” he remarked.
    “Take you to town tomorrow,” said Father, climbing into the
front seat.
    When Marco reached the buggy, the back seat was already
full with John nearest, Mark in the center and Nancy against the
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far door. There was about six inches of space on the near side
of John's left.
    Marco swung up, stepped on both John and Mark’s feet to
get past, and squeezed himself into the nonexistent space
between Mark and Nancy.
    “Beg pardon, Miss,” he said.
    “You stepped on my shoes,” said John.
    “I beg your humble pardon. I’d shine ‘em for you later,
except that I don’t know how.”
    “You’ll—“
    “Boys!” said Mother.
    Feeling uncomfortable as a literal middleman, Mark sighed
and wished for his book. Fifteen cents gone up in the fire—
    Marco was rearranging Nancy’s voluminous skirts to cover
his knees and just leave room to poke out his toes under the
hem — she giggled so hard it came out in a snort.
    It was Mrs. Biggs who turned around that time — both of
their faces turned solemn and Marco hid his hands behind his
back.
    Hiding his own grin, Mark mused on the subject.
    I’ll pretend I’m investigating this character and see what
he’s up to. He’s certainly got Father’s string to pull. Probably
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a fellow masquerading under false pretenses, insinuating
himself into the family to steal our inheritance.
    That would be a story.



Chapter 30

    “We’ve somehow turned up early,” said Mother, shaking
Mark out of the impossibly complex plot he was making up in
his head.
    The vaulted door of the church was closed against the cold,
but when people started to arrive it would be swinging
constantly open. The churchfront stood two stories tall and
rigidly solemn, ten steps up from the snowy sidewalk where a
light powdering from the night before was rapidly being
trampled into ice.
    “Care to walk from the shed, then?” said Father, drawing up
the horses in front of church.
    “We’ll wait for you here,” she said sweetly.
    Seeing Mrs. Biggs begin to open her buggy door, Marco
stepped on his brother’s feet again to jump down and help her
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out. It made them both look like ungentlemanly clods.
    “Thank you, dear,” said Biggsey.
    He offered a hand to their mother too, but Mark noticed she
didn’t really touch it on her way down. Then he did the same
for Nancy — she was so overcome with giggles that she tripped
and nearly fell sprawling.
    Marco hopped up in the front, riding with them over to the
stall-sheds. “Could use some new music, too,” he said casually
to Father.
    “That’ll be Mr. Power’s doing,” said Father. “I had
expected him to be supplying it.”
    “Hope so. When you say he’s taught through college, do
you mean—“
    “I mean what I said,” Father interrupted. “I hardly think
you’re going to be too advanced for the man to teach.”
    “I ain’t worried about what he can teach me; just about what
he can give me. Ain’t many teachers got a stock of music
laying around—“
    Father stopped the buggy and got down, ignoring further
complaint. He stood with arms folded, watching the boys
unhitch the horses and tie on blankets.
    Marco didn’t bother to help either, just stood with his hands
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jammed into his pockets. They worked as fast as they could
and still felt cold when they were done — they set off for
church as fast as numb feet would allow.
    “Better get’cha some mittens, so you won’t frostbite your
precious fingers,” said Mark.
    Falling a step behind Father, Marco scooped a quick
snowball and flung it at his face. Mark backed away easily as it
dissolved into mid-air flakes — he hadn’t taken time to pack it
hard.
    Marco reached for another handful and began patting —
    Too late for battle, they were on the church steps and being
pulled into the crowd in the entryway. Mother joined them
graciously, taking the boy’s arm and pulling them all further
into the throng.
    She was introducing Marco as ‘my stepson,’ Mark noticed.
    “Good morning, Miss Madsen,” said John, almost inaudibly.
Mark grinned to see that the Madsens had come up and Miss
Mae had quietly assumed a place at John’s side, waiting for him
to speak first.
    She smiled back, dimples disappearing into faintly pink
cheeks. She was wearing an astonishing array of canary yellow
ribbons that seemed to reflect highlights on her white-blonde
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hair.
    “Mrs. Madsen, how do you do?.” Mother greeted the young
lady’s parents, voice turning shrill to be heard over the din. She
waited until the lady’s curious nod fell on the young man at her
side; then she gave a little smile and said, “My stepson, Marco
Corbeau, just back from visiting relatives down south.”
    “Marc Corbeau,” he said. “It sho’ly is a treat to be a-gwine
to chu’ch wit’ dese fine sass’ty Bahs-ton-ians.”
    “Pleased to meet you,” said Mrs. Madsen, raising her
eyebrows.
    Mark tried hard not to laugh out loud.
    “John, how’s old Frederick doing?” asked Mr. Madsen,
cutting across the conversation. Mrs. Madsen stepped away
with Mother, anxiously discussing arrangements for the
evening’s social.
    “Pleased to meet’cha,” said Marc, grinning at Miss Mae.
    “Mr. — Corbeau, is it?” she said, smiling back.
    “Yep. I’d ask you to call me Marc, but you’d cut me dead,
wouldn’t ya?”
    She giggled — a nice sound, worth straining your ears to
hear over the crowd.
    “I’d have to,” she said.
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    “I understand,” he said, nodding his head sadly and keeping
his eyes downcast.
    “Will you be coming to the social tonight, Mr. Corbeau?”
she asked.
    He shook his head slightly and stage-whispered, “Not
invited.”
    “Nonsense,” she said, still giggling. “It’s a church function
— everybody is invited. You can’t miss it — they’ll be a
whole continent of young ladies showing their talents.”
    “Will you be on the stage?”
    “Never!” she said, shuddering prettily. “Come sit with me,
if you like, and I’ll whisper who’s who in the intervals.”
    “Will you introduce me to the ones I want to meet?”
    She looked startled, then tossed her head carefully, not
disturbing a hair of her fluff of artfully arranged curls. “Only to
my enemies—which I don’t have any!”
    He raised eyebrows to suggest, why?
    “Because I wouldn’t introduce you to a friend. You are far
too clever.”
    He laughed softly, showing an effective flash of teeth in his
dark-tanned face. Feeling oddly invisible despite the fact he
was only two feet away, Mark watched amazed as Marco’s eyes
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flicked to another young lady nearby, exchanging a half-smile
that Miss Mae couldn’t help but notice.
    Mae said quickly, “I wouldn’t want to have their hearts
broken, would I?”
    The crowd of people was pushing toward the inner door. At
her mother’s hiss, Mae turned reluctantly to go.
    “I’ll try to make it,” said Marco.
    “I’ll try to remember I asked you,” she called.
    “Come on,” urged Mark, pulling Marco's arm.
    He’d just witnessed the complete ruination of John’s
planned evening and not said a word to stop it. He wasn’t even
sure how it had happened — but he was confident that Mae
Madsen wouldn’t be looking for John anytime tonight.

   *

   Snarling, Mark sat on a pew between Father and Marco —
he and John weren’t allowed to sit beside each other in church.
(The ban dated back to a kicking incident when he was four
years old….)
   Couldn’t he just ask the fellow to back off? A fellow
wouldn’t deliberately —
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   This one would. Marco’s head was turned sideways,
exchanging a smile with Mae all the way on the other side of
the church. It couldn’t have been an accident. He’d done it on
purpose to get at John. He'd heard them talking--
   The first hymn started. After one gasping moment, staring
from side to side at the singers around him, Marco clapped
hands to his ears and sat down, crouching over as if in pain.
   Mark suppressed a snicker and sang louder.
   When the song ended and the preacher asked them to remain
standing for a prayer, Mark glanced over to see how Marco was
taking this one.
   Weird. He’d made a funny motion with his right hand and
was now leaning forward against the pew in front, for all
appearances making a silent prayer to himself. Probably
showing off for Father’s benefit.
   At the next hymn he switched to fingers in ears, still
crouched down — until Father noticed at last. He reached
across Mark and thumped him on the shoulder, pointing at the
hymnbook.
   Mark laughed and choked it back.
   Solemn as a judge, Marco picked up the book and found his
place, following along for the rest of the verse. Then he began
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to sing — loudly, perfectly on time — and every note a half
tone off.
    Mark didn’t have perfect pitch, and he couldn’t maintain his
own melody with a discord of notes assaulting him on either
side. Every time he tried to sing he found his tones
unconsciously gravitating to Marco’s. It was impossible to go
on — he stopped singing to clear his throat, but his shoulders
were shaking with suppressed laughter.
    Tears were squeezing out of his eyes by the time the Sunday
school students were dismissed and they sat back down for a
Bible reading. Marco sat still and read the hymnbook,
humming under his breath and turning down the corners of
about one in ten pages.
    Back to plotting his own version of Bags O’Toole, Boy
Reporter, Mark remained blessedly unconscious of his father’s
occasional glare when the humming and page turning grew loud
enough to leak over to his seat. At the dismissal prayer, he
noticed that Marco was two-thirds through the book.
    Church was half over. They could stand up—but not stretch
and yawn.
    Grabbing Marco by the arm, Father growled, “If you can’t
behave yourself for one hour in church then I’m doubtful you
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can do it for a one hour music lesson! I suggest we postpone
the lessons until you can get some practice in it.”
    “I think I’m about to get another hour’s worth,” said Marco
blandly.
    “See that you do!” he snapped, pushing past them and
leaving them alone.
     “So what’s so great about Catholic Church?” asked Mark.
    “Nothing. Hate it. Music’s better.”
    “So you’re just putting on an act to get his goat?”
    “Pretty much so," said Marco.
    John jostled Mark from the other side. “Let’s go get a drink
of water before the rest of the church crowds in.”
    “Sure,” said Mark, moving along and leaving Marco behind.
It felt a little rude…but then he remembered the affair of Mae
Madsen. John hadn’t seen any of it and he didn’t want to be the
one to tell him about Mae...dang Marco, anyway.

   *

  The pews had filled up considerably when they came back.
Mark barely managed to squeeze back into his old seat.
  After a list of announcements that stretched out so long that
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Mark almost fell asleep listening, they all rose for prayer again.
   Mostly all. Marco stayed in his seat, writing on a scrap of
paper. Not notes this time — it looked like he was writing a
poem. He was writing a word or two, scratching out and
puzzling, then starting again.
   Bowing his head in prayer, Mark read the poem from above
—

   The preacher thought he was so smart
   To talk for two hours was an art
   But the leader of choir
   Was about to expire
   So he cleared out the church with a fart.

    Grabbing a handkerchief out of his pocket, Mark choked
violently.
    Young Mr. and Mrs. Fillmore had claimed the space on the
other side of Marco, squishing him to the left and making a safe
buffer zone between Marco's offkey singing and the screechy
tones of old Mrs. Duggan. The singing wouldn’t be as funny
this time, Mark decided.
    The song leader gave out hymn 254, and Mark held his
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breath, determined to keep a face as solemn as the gravestone.
    Listening carefully to the organ’s brief introduction to get
the rhythm, Marco started singing—
    Mark swiveled his head and gaped, shocked. Marco wasn’t
fooling around anymore. He was singing –on key — and
singing good.
    Seeing his brother's astonishment, Marco grinned and
gestured with his head. Mark looked past him and realized that
he wasn’t the only one staring open-mouthed at the sound of the
boy’s voice. Young Mrs. Fillmore was standing on Marco’s
other side--she was not making a sound and her eyes were
pasted to his face.
    Marco looked at her and smiled slowly at the end of the
verse, and she turned as red as a beet, returning the smile.
    Mark rolled his eyes and turned his back on the whole affair.
If the boy was a big enough fool to flirt with a lady with her
husband standing right there—even if she was just eighteen
years old, blonde-haired and blue eyed and slender—
    He growled in his throat. Maybe she’d be at the social to
keep the idiot away from making eyes at Mae Madsen.
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   *

   The ride back home was always too long. John jumped
down and vanished into the stables before the horses were even
stopped. Determined to have it out with Marco, Mark beat him
over to the side to help down Mrs. Biggs. He would ask for
help with the horses—
   Mrs. Biggs said to Marco, “Before I forget, I need you to
come in the kitchen directly.”
   The stableboy was there — he could handle the unhitching,
so Mark followed them inside.
    “I’ve been up in the attic,” she said, sounding self-satisfied.
“Found something I thought you’d like. Go ahead, look in it.”
   Just an old pasteboard box, covered with dust. Clothes?
   Marco opened it slowly; looking like he thought someone
was about to make sport of him. Kneeling down to the floor, he
leaned over and started sifting through the papers inside.
   “It’s…music. Holy smoke, it’s full of music. Where’d you
get all this?” He started making stacks, exclaiming over each
new discovery — after starting a fifth stack he jumped up and
gave Mrs. Biggs a huge hug that lifted her off her feet.
   “Take it out of here and git,” said Mrs. Biggs, a little red in
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the face.
    Since she was still watching the boy, Mark edged around
behind her back to steal a cookie.
    “Ain’t dinner time yet!” she said.
    He stuck his hands in his pocket and hummed, wandering
back up to her side. “How’s a body get so excited over a
bunch of old paper stuffed in a box?” he said, laughing as
Marco balanced the box on his shoulder and trotted off,
whistling.
    “He’s lonesome, that’s how. You and John need to make
him a better welcome,” said Biggsey, stirring up her stew pot
and sniffing the results.
    “I was trying to — until he started trying to wheedle John’s
girl away.”
    “Pshaw! I didn’t even know John had a girl — how’s he
supposed to know it?”
    “He knows,” said Mark. “It’s Mae Madsen, and John was
just getting up the nerve to ask her to sit with him at the social,
then he jumps in and goes to making googly eyes at her.”
    Mrs. Biggs was looking grim, but she just shooed Nancy
back to the washing up and started wiping off her breadboard.
“Fetch me a hod of coal, won’t you dearie? These rolls aren’t
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never going to rise up right, I might as well cook them.”
    “I’ll stay and help if you’ll give me a doughnut — I’m
starving,” said Mark, dumping out the coal for her.
    She closed the damper of the stove to heat up the oven. “I’ll
talk to Marco about the girl. You ought’a be getting out to help
your brother. He looks so tired that I’m afeard he’s going to
fall asleep in his soup plate.”

   *

   Sunday luncheon was not a meal to miss, but Mark had to
practically drag John away from the horse. The treatment
seemed to be working and John didn’t want to miss a single
half-hour’s change of the bandages.
   Mother and Father were already seated, so he sat down
opposite John and grinned again at his brother’s sleepy eyelids.
Maybe he’d rewrite his murder as a poisoning, so he could
describe the splash of a head dropping into its soup plate.
   Mother looked at the table, nodded approval and said,
“Nancy, you may serve.”
   “I spoke to Mrs. Fenders,” she said to Father. “She has a
boy they’re thinking to train up to butlering; it’s either that or
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let him go. I said—“
    “Go fetch Marc,” Father said to Nancy. She dropped her
spoon on the floor, giggled and hurried out, causing him to
shake his head darkly.
    “We might be willing to take him for an interview—“
    “Sooner the better,” said Father.
    Mark turned back to his soup plate and resumed the internal
narrative. Bags rushed into the room. Placing two fingers on
the suspect’s wrist, he counted under his breath while all eyes
froze, glued on his face.
    Nancy came back in the room, preceding Marco. She was
red-faced and inclined to jiggle with suppressed merriment;
Father shook his head again.
    “Sorry I’m late,” said Marco, sitting down and shaking out
his napkin. He was actually smiling around the table — Mark
caught himself returning the smile by accident and glanced
back at John.
    “You’ll be on time from now on,” said Father.
    “Got a clock I can borrow?”
    Father ignored this.
    Mother went on, “I’ll ask tonight, if we might not have him
come by in the afternoon — no, the morning. I have my sewing
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circle at two.”
    “I’ll be gone in the morning,” said Father.
    “Might I inquire as to the time of your return?” asked
Mother. “So that I will know when to schedule the interview?”
    “Don’t know. Taking him to meet the piano instructor.”
    “Oh, dear,” said Mother. “I hope it won’t be too ruinous an
expense for so little—“
    “That’s all taken care of,” he snapped.
    Marco picked up his soup bowl and drained it in one quick
slurp while they were both looking away. Catching Mark’s
eye, he muttered, “I’ve always wanted to do that.”
    Nancy had served the others first; now she brought Marco
an overflowing plate of the chicken stuff, slopping the edges
onto the tablecloth.
    Watching to see if he were going to pick this plate up and
slurp it, too, Mark instead saw him take a cautious taste and
freeze, staring down at his plate. After a painful pause, he
propped up his head with an elbow on the table and began to
eat, slower and slower and not looking up.
    “What ever has she done?” asked Mother, puzzling over her
plate.
    “Poulet a la crème joubine,” said Father. “I guess Mrs.
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Biggs has pulled out her manual of French cookery again.”
    “I wish she wouldn’t do that. Such surprises can hardly be
good for the digestion.”
    “It’s a pleasant change, and one that I would strongly
encourage,” said Father.
    “I’ve asked her and asked her—“
    “May I be excused?” asked Marco.
    “I beg your pardon?” said Mother. “We don’t generally
interrupt people at this table.”
    “I don’t feel so good,” he said, looking sick. Not waiting for
permission, he stood up and vanished out the door.
    Mother shot an outraged look at Father, who merely
shrugged. “Change of diet, I’m sure.”
    “That is exactly of what I was speaking…”
    After lunch Mark put on his heavy coat, preparing himself to
relieve John in the barn. The boy’d go crazy if he never got out
of that place.
    He wandered by the kitchen first. Biggsey would let him
eat doughnuts after meals — not that he was usually hungry
enough to care — but this time he planned to take provisions
for the long afternoon’s vigil in the stable.
    He was surprised. Marco was sitting at the kitchen table
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spooning in the chicken dish with one hand and scribbling
music notes with the other.
    “What do you think you’re doing?” said Mark. “I thought
you were sick.”
    “I thought so too, until I realized that it wasn’t the food I
couldn’t stand, but the company.”
    “For shame,” said Mrs. Biggs. She sat down too, with a
plate even bigger than his.
    “This is the best poulet joubin I’ve ever ate,” he said.
    “What are you writing that stuff down for?” Mark asked.
    “For? To sell, of course. I got twelve dollars for music I
writ back in N’yawlens.”
    “What’d you do with it?”
    ”Wasted ever darn penny,” he said sadly.
    The idea was intriguing. Instead of getting a doughnut,
Mark went back to his room and got a pencil and pad of paper
to take to the stables.
    Sending John off to take a nap, he sat down and propped the
pad up on his knees, opening it to the first blank page.
    Bags O’Toole wasn’t usually picky about what he ate for
supper, but seeing the knife sticking up out of the waiter’s back
made him think twice about ordering the steak…
302




Chapter 31

    Facing another Monday morning of slow suffering in the
classroom, Mark carried his notepad in and stashed it under the
desk. He was hoping to get a minute alone with it during study
time. There were nearly ten pages filled already.
    On his right, John was doodling numbers on a page that was
already filled with numbers. Last night had been a disaster…
Marco had sat with Mae Madsen, giggling and whispering all
throughout the performances. The performances had varied
from ‘somewhat bad’ to ‘all bad’ to ‘really all bad.’ And Mark
had sat in the back with John, not even able to joke through the
dark scowl of his brother’s bad humor.
    Hambone looked at the clock and announced, “School is
now in session. Mr. Mark, you may read your essay.”
    Mark flipped back to the beginning of the tablet, wishing he
were reading Bags O’Toole instead. He stood up to read and
Marco walked in.
    “Two minutes tardy, Mr. Corbeau,” said Hambone. “I’ll
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have two hundred copies of an appropriate apology on my desk
tomorrow morning.”
   “Yes, Sir,” said Marco, not bothering to ask what an
appropriate apology was.
   “I suppose you have no essay to read to me?”
   “No, Sir.”
   “I suppose it was foolish of me to hope you might have
consulted with your classmate to discover the assignment for
today. Your grade is a zero. Carry on, Mr. Mark.”
   Reading in a monotone, Mark read an essay that was as dirt-
dry and factual as he knew how to write. He’d crammed so
many nouns in the page that there was almost no room for verbs
— ‘was’ and ‘said’ were the most active verbs he’d used.
   Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Marco yawn twice; he
was doing the arithmetic assignment from Saturday but
pretending to keep his eyes attentively on Mark’s face.
   After an interminably long time reading, Mark had the
pleasure of listening to a critique that was twice as long as the
essay. If it hadn’t been for the ten pages of Bags O’Toole, boy
reporter in his desk, he would’ve had a strong desire never to
write a word on paper again.
   It was a relief to sit down and open the grammar text,
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preparing for the next day’s recital. Only one essay was
required each week, and he wouldn’t have to start on the next
one until Wednesday.
   Marco was still writing out the arithmetic problems. He
wasn’t half done when John’s arithmetic recital was over —
advanced trigonometry and flawless as always — but he stood
up quietly when Mr. Hammond called the class.
   This new behavior pattern was puzzling.
   “Problem one, Sir?” asked Hammond.
   “Four hundred and twelve,” he answered.
   “Kindly explain how you arrived at that answer?”
   “The angle was thirty degrees. Converted to radians that
is….”
   “Correct,” said Hammond, looking surprised. “Had you
studied plane geometry in your previous school?”
   “No, I read the textbook.”
   Out of the corner of his eye, Mark watched John’s mouth
turn down slightly. A smart smart-alec was harder to deal with
than a dumb one.
   Mark was given the next two questions. He knew the
answers were correct because he’d checked them against John’s
answers from a few years back.
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    “Problem four?”
    “Thirty one feet,” said Marco.
    “That is incorrect; Mr. Mark?”
    “Thirty seven,” said Mark, grinning.
    “Mr. Corbeau, problem five?”
    “Five thousand, two hundred and eighty,” he answered.
    “Mr. Mark?”
    “Five thousand, three hundred and eighty.”
    And so it went for the entirety of twenty-three problems.
The last six Marco hadn’t even gotten around to working, so he
only had to say ‘I don’t know.’ Hammond didn’t stop asking
him, though, and Mark was beginning to feel a little
embarrassed on his half-brother’s behalf.
    “Gentlemen, you may take your seats. Your lesson for
tomorrow is chapter fifteen, problems one through thirty. Mr.
Corbeau, you will rework today’s problems and hand in your
solutions, showing your work on a separate sheet of paper.”
    “Gosh!” muttered Marco, under his breath.
    “What did you say?”
    “I said, ‘Gracious God in Heaven,’ Sir. What did you think
I said?”
    After a long, biting stare, Mr. Hammond turned to the
306

blackboard. “I will explain the chapter.”
    Mr. Vincent walked through the door just then and cleared
his throat.
    With a heavy whoosh of breath, Marco got up and walked
quickly to the door.
    “Sir, that is hardly an appropriate—“ began Mr. Hammond.
    “He’ll be back after luncheon,” said Father.
    “I beg your pardon sir, but I don’t understand how you
expect him to learn if you do not intend for him to attend the
course of instruction.”
    “He’ll be expected to make it up, of course. All afternoon
for that.”
    “We already have the afternoon filled, I am sorry to say.”
    “Then the evening.”
    “Piano practice,” said Marco under his breath.
    “Simply to keep up with a course of studies at college
preparation level will require—“ began Mr. Hammond.
    “See me after classes and I will decide what parts of the
curriculum can be eliminated,” said Father, turning on his heel
and walking out.
    “Problems eighteen through twenty three,” whispered Mark,
trying not to grin at Hambone’s furious face.
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   “What’s the point of trying to teach a imbecile anyway?”
said John, not bothering to keep his voice down.

   *

    Puzzled at the significance of the excursion to town, Mark
wandered down to the kitchen after lessons.
    “Father home yet?” he asked Biggsey. She usually knew all
the household comings and goings — her back windows
opened out on the stables.
    “Can I get some more old rags?” asked John, coming in
behind him.
    “Best ask Mrs. Hunt about that,” said Biggsey. Mrs. Hunt
was the housekeeper — she came in days with her oldest girl.
    “Home now,” she added for Marks' question, nodding at the
window. The wagon had just stopped up and Marco leaped out
of it, heading for the kitchen door.
    “Stop right there!” ordered Biggsey as the door banged
open. “Scrape the snow off them shoes afore you come in
here.”
    John stalked out, pushing past him.
    “How was it?” Mrs. Biggs asked, shaking her head at John’s
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retreating back.
    “How was it? It was superb! The old mug has a whole
library of music! When I’ve finished all the box you found for
me, wondrous lady, I can start on his!” Marco sat on the table
and immediately hopped down, grinning around the room as if
it held an admiring audience.
    “And he’s a good enough teacher to admit he ain’t a genius.
He’s worked with the Philadelphia symphony, too. He said I
surpassed him in expression, but then he said he could help me
in technique even if he might not be able to out-play me.”
    “Sounds like he might teach you a lesson in humility,” said
Mrs. Biggs mildly.
    “So I made a mistake on purpose, a little one, in the
allegretto section of sonata four — and he caught it! I never
had a teacher what would’a caught it before.”
    He seemed to be prepared to go on in this vein forever.
Mark rolled his eyes at Nancy, expecting a giggle, but she never
saw it. Her eyes were glued to Marco’s face.
    “And he’s going to introduce me to a Mr. Bertrolli who
studied in Berlin for two years with Herr Mahler, and he thinks
I can get an hour a week of his time too. He’s here working in
the orchestra. What’dya think of that?”
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   Mrs. Biggs patted him on the arm and started chopping
herbs, smiling up from the cutting board.
   “Oh, da—darn, I gotta get started practicing!” he said,
running out of the room.



Chapter 32

    “Where’s Hambone?” asked Mark of the world at general.
It was five before two; usually Hammond was in the classroom
early, planning the afternoon of torture.
     “Down with Father, cutting subjects out of my schedule.
And spitting nails to be doing it,” said Marco, grinning.
    Mark almost grinned back until he looked over and saw
John’s sour face.
    “Might as well cut out mathematics, so we don’t have to
listen to every answer twice — yours wrong and Mark’s right,”
said John.
    “And grammar,” said Mark, trying to lighten up John’s sour
tone of voice. “You ain’t got any.”
    “That’s the truth. Only school subject I ever found of use
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was literature. Gals love that poetical stuff.”
    “How would you know?” said John. “I ‘magine any girl
who’d have you doesn’t have enough sense to know poetry
from a pisspot.”
    “That’s a pretty rude thing to say about Miss Madsen,” said
Marco.
    John’s mouth tightened and he shifted in his seat like he was
about to get up. Then he leaned back and drawled, “’Course
where you come from, down south, there’s plenty of mulatto
gals — but I doubt you got a chance to dream that high.”
    “I’d druther have a honest high yaller than a blonde-headed
gal that’s lying about it,” Marco said. “I reckon Miss Mae’s
dark brown under her pretty white drawers.”
    “I’ll knock—“ The table screeched forward and John swung
without warning, directly at Marco’s face. Marco ducked,
crouching down to let the swing pass by and then standing up
and backing away from John's reach.
    “Wait—“ he gasped, ducking under a second blow and
pushing John’s shoulder to unbalance him. “I was just trying to
make a joke…”
    Avoiding another swing, Marco jumped backward and
tripped over a chair. Scrambling up and pushing the chair in
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John’s path, he said, “I don’t want to fight—“
    John crashed the chair aside. Punching straight and hard—
Mark winced to watch—
    It didn’t make contact—Marco had dodged again. He
tripped over a stack of books that time — he went down with
John on top of him, John swinging punches with all his might.
    Hambone came running in, swearing under his breath. He
and Mark both got an arm, jerking John back and up to his feet.
Marco jumped up and backed away; it didn’t look like any of
John’s punches had made contact.
    “Take your seat, Mr. Vincent!” said Mr. Hammond, shoving
John toward the table. He grabbed Marco’s collar and drew
back his cane—
    “You — have — been — warned — about — fighting —“
gasped Mr. Hammond, matching each word with a vicious blow
of the cane.
    Marco just stood and took it, with a clenched jaw that was
determined not to show any pain. The whacks went on, louder
and harder until Mark jumped in, hanging on Mr. Hammond’s
arm and yelling. “He didn’t do it, Sir. He was trying to back
down — it’s not fair —“
    Mr. Hammond stopped to sneer. “You had an objection, Sir,
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or you were just in a hurry for your own turn?”
   Mark set his own jaw and didn’t look at John. “He wasn’t
fighting, Sir.”
   “There was no fighting before he came into this classroom,
Mr. Vincent. Sit down and start the lesson.”
   He turned back to Marco.
   “You, Sir — sit down. Unless you’d like to go crying to
your Father, that you were thrashed in school?”
   Marco walked, stiff, to his chair and sat down. Watching
close, Mark didn’t see pain but he knew Marco had to feel it.
The boy stared at Hambone like he was recording his face for a
wanted, believed dead, poster.
   Mark stumbled to his seat and opened the history textbook.
He couldn’t believe Hambone was going to let John off — not
that he wanted to see his brother punished—
   John was still breathing hard, shaking in his seat.

   *

   Tomorrow’s recitation was going to be bad. The clock had
finally crept up to five-twenty-five, so Mark quit even
pretending to study. He could work on it after supper—
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    Nah. What was the point? He looked sideways at Marco,
wondering if his afternoon had been more productive. Marco’s
head was pointed squarely at the geometry text and he held a
pencil ready on a half-filled notepaper, but his eyes were
closed.
    The afternoon’s recitations had been distracting enough.
Marco had consistently answered, ‘I don’t know, Sir,’ for every
question except in the history recitation. In that one, he’d
answered every question quickly and politely…and absolutely
wrong. It was pretty obvious that this was the only subject he’d
studied—for at least ten of the questions, he’d answered every
one with the answer to the next question.
    “You will accompany me downstairs to speak to Mr.
Vincent,” Hambone said to Marco, ending the day early.
Hambone was flushed and seemed jerky in his movements; he
carried his grade book along and took up his jacket and cane.
He dropped his grade book and then dropped the cane while
reaching for the book.
    “I’m gonna eavesdrop,” hissed Mark to John. John just
rolled his eyes and turned his back, stalking toward his room.
     Tiptoeing behind their backs, Mark ducked back behind the
corner as they turned to knock at the study door.
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    They went in and closed it behind them, so he rushed up to
press an ear to the crack.
    “…because I am confident you would not wish me to
compromise the educations of your sons.” Hambone’s voice
was unnaturally high-pitched.
    “Are you incapable of learning?” Father’s voice said. Mark
presumed that the question was directed to Marco.
    “Just trying to catch up,” Marco said, low…or at least, that’s
what Mark thought he said.
    “And I hardly think that fighting with the other students is
the sort of behavior—“
    “What is this?” said Father, sharply.
    “I haven’t the slightest idea, Sir. I tripped over a pile of
books, one of the fellows reached out a hand to help me up, and
this gentleman seemed to think we were fighting.”
    “Sir—Mr. Vincent—“ sputtered Hambone.
    “Don’t take me for that big of a fool, Marc,” said Father.
“Any more fighting, and you’ll be out on your ear. And as for
the grades…any week you can’t maintain a passing grade in all
your subjects, is a week when you can use the piano lesson time
to catch up on schoolwork.”
    There was silence for a minute and Mark ached to see what
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the faces were saying.
   Father added, “And if that isn’t sufficient, Mr. Hammond
can stay on a few hours in the evening and tutor you
personally.”
   “There’s not much point in me staying here, is there?” said
Marco. His voice sounded…kind of dead.
   “You have nowhere else to go,” said Father. “Do I need to
remind you of what your Uncle said, when I proposed taking
you on? I didn’t hear him begging for you to stay.”
   He went on talking. “Mr. Hammond, your instructions have
not changed. See to it that all three boys maintain a steady
progression toward a college entrance exam. If it requires
additional time and effort to do this, then I give you leave to
take the extra time and effort. You may take your leave.”
   Mark heard a heavy step and barely had time to jump back
— the door jerked open and Marco stalked out, slamming the
door behind him. Probably in Hambone’s face.
   Opening the nearest door and ducking inside, Mark waited
until Mr. Hammond’s rapid footsteps went past. Counting the
seconds — one, five, ten — he stepped out into the hall and ran
head on into Father.
   “Beg pardon, Sir,” he said.
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   “What were you doing in the smoking room?” Father asked.
Mark’s hiding place had been the little offshoot of the library
where the gentleman traditionally retired with cigars after a
formal dinner.
   “Uh…just taking up smoking…” stammered Mark.
   “We can’t afford it,” said Father, striding on down the hall
toward the front parlor.

   *

    The hours after supper were the most boring hours of the
long, boring winter days. In summer they would have been out
on the river, fishing or swimming or swinging on grapevines.
It’d hardly be dark before bedtime came...and sometimes
bedtime would only be a brief interlude of quiet before they’d
climb out of bed to go tromping the roads, daring each other
farther and farther in the shadows of night.
    Mr. Pearson’s peach orchard tasted especially good in
moonlight….
    Bah. In February he had the choice between reading
downstairs or reading in his room…and his room was ice cold
on the best of nights. He only went upstairs to go to bed.
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    But tonight hadn’t been so bad. He’d taken his schoolwork
to the kitchen, spread it out all over the table, and pulled out the
tablet of the fast-growing Bags O’Toole story. John sat
opposite him, reading Marshall’s History of the Horse: Being a
description of the major breeds of the world and the men and
conditions that brought them to being.
    Mrs. Biggs sat closest to the stove, silent except for the
rhythm of rocking and clicking her knitting needles. And
Nancy was blessedly absent. Bags O’Toole had a chance to
search the kitchen and storeroom, to get caught trying to sneak
the mayor’s daughter out of a compromising encounter with her
secret beau, and to be chided by the cook for squashing his
special shipment of Ponce D’Leon peppers out of South
America.
    The only problem with sitting in the kitchen was that when
Mrs. Biggs went to bed, she expected everybody to go to bed,
and kicked them all out accordingly. Between the choice of
sitting in the parlor with Mother and Father and warming up a
chilly bed, the bed sounded warmer.
    Running up the stairs to build up some heat, he threw off his
clothes and grabbed his nightshirt to take under the covers with
him. Five patchwork quilts and a merino wool blanket—
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    He landed on an icy cold square that was neither sheet nor
pillow. Pulling it out and feeling the edges…
    It was a book. The shutters were letting in only a tiny streak
of moonlight, so he climbed out of bed naked, shaking too hard
to pull the nightshirt over his head. He knew the feel of the
lamp that stood on the bedside table and he scrambled for a
match…
    It was Bags O’Toole, Boy Reporter. Brand new and uncut.
    Dark as it was, he still looked over his shoulder — but no
one was there. Maybe Father hadn’t burned it up after all…or
maybe Nancy had rescued it from the stove…impossible. It
was clearly not his other copy.
    He stood, shivering and turning the book over and over in
his hands. It was a pretty good puzzle—
    That could wait for tomorrow! Right now he had a bedside
lamp half-full of kerosene and a brand-new book in his hands.
He jumped back into bed and tucked the weight of quilts back
up around his neck. Long winter nights weren’t so bad after all.



Chapter 33
319


    Two whole days passed without an explosion. Mark
considered that to be some kind of a record, but he wasn’t half
paying attention anyway. He’d spend the better part of the two
days plotting Bags O’Toole up into a twisted maze of twirly
personalities, and now he had his plot wound so tight that it
took him an hour to write out one page.
    Staying up until midnight to work out the exposure of the
police chief, his eyes were so drooping in the morning history
class that Marco actually beat him on a recitation.
    “Mr. Mark, seventy percent,” said Hambone, writing in his
book.
    Mr. Hammond always did the math in his head, showing off
— John had whispered that he frequently missed a point or two,
but it wasn’t important enough to correct him on.
    “Mr. Corbeau, seventy-six.”
    “Eighty,” muttered John under his breath.
    Mark cocked an eyebrow, saying “wow” silently.
    “School is dismissed. Mr. Corbeau, since you’ll be out this
afternoon you may want to make a note of the assignment….”
    “Let’s go down to see Biggsey,” suggested Mark, glad to
leave the stuffy schoolroom behind.
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    “Can’t,” said John mournfully, “Mother wants to review
‘dinner jackets.’”
    “Can’t she just buy you one?”
    “Something about style,” he said, dragging his steps.
“You’ll be next.”
    “I may be next, but I’m not now,” said Mark, whistling
cheerfully. He pulled the writing tablet out of his back pocket
and reviewed the plot notes as he walked along.
    Glowing in the cheerful warmth of the kitchen, he spread out
the notebook and a handful of papers on the table. “Cut’cher
kindling, Ma’am?” he asked before sitting down.
    “Marco already did it,” she replied.
    “Guess I ain’t your favorite workboy no more,” he
grumbled.
    “Mind your trimming, missy! You’re about to cut a finger
off.” Mrs. Biggs went on grumbling, “…don’t know where
some peoples puts their minds…catch me going at a roast and
staring out the door like you’re looking for Saint Peter…hurry
up and go tell Madam it’s ten minutes.”
    Distracted from his plot, Mark looked over at Nancy. She
moved like she was sleepwalking with a faint, fixed smile on
her lips. Catching his gaze, she woke up and tittered, getting a
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little red in the cheeks and mangling the slice of roast she was
trimming.
     …the washing up girl was as thin as if she’d never eaten
more than the scraps in people’s plates, but she looked up at
Bags with a peculiar, expectant smile. She was pretty, he
noticed, but not pretty in a way you could bring home to
mother.
     Shaking off the thought with a hard application of Mary
Lee’s profile—
     “Did that horse ever go right?” asked Marco.
     Mark jumped out of his skin; he hadn’t noticed anyone come
in. Marco sipped from a cup of coffee and leaned on the end of
the table, looking sideways at Mark’s papers.
     “Sit down or stand up!” ordered Mrs. Biggs. “Don’t be
leaning on the table like it was a cane.”
     Marco jumped to attention and sat down sheepishly, across
from Mark.
     Hoping Marco couldn’t read upside down, Mark said.
“Frederick the Great? Right as rain. Took three days, but we
missed some changes in the evenings. And John don’t think the
boy was real faithful to the clock during the school day, neither.
He can’t tell time.”
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   “I’m surprised Mr. Vincent doesn’t hire a better stableman if
he’s going to keep so many horses.”
   “Yeah, John’s cussed him out about that regular. If he
complains, then Father starts talking about getting rid of some
stock. John ain’t having that, so he does the work himself.”
   “I could help if…”
   “Don’t need any help,” said Mark absently, marking out the
words ‘hard application’ in his story. It sounded pretentious.
   After a minute he looked up to see Marco sipping coffee
again, not saying anything back. Maybe that’d sounded rude,
but he couldn’t think how to fix it now.
   “What’cha calling Father ‘Mr. Vincent’ for?”
   “Trying to pretend I ain’t related to the …” Marco trailed off
into a mumble, but Mrs. Biggs had already interrupted with a
cry of outrage.
   “Beg pardon, Ma’am,” he said.
   Nancy came back in the room with a giggle and a little
shriek.
   “Settle down!” said Mrs. Biggs. “You near took my ear off
with that noise.”
   “Oh, Marco, here’s a letter for you — two! I been saving
‘em to give to you.”
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    “There you go,” said Mrs. Biggs, smiling at him kindly.
“They surely haven’t forgot you, now have they? Who is it?”
    “Uncle Henri…and Cherry. Wonder why…”
    He tore open one of the envelopes and read it quickly,
frowning. When he looked up to see three faces watching him,
he frowned darker and tucked the letters into a pocket.
    “She your girl?” asked Mark, trying not to make his voice
sarcastic.
    “Nah, ain’t got none,” said Marco, smiling over at Mrs.
Biggs and Nancy. They both looked away, pretending to be
hard at work instead of hard at eavesdropping.
    He dropped the smile instantly; staring back into his coffee
cup and rubbing the sides like it held a sour-faced Genie.
    “Not even Mae Madsen?” asked Mark, low. Nancy had
gone to set the table and Mrs. Biggs was in the pantry.
    “Almighty God, no. What in the world does John see in that
girl?”
    “You sure gave a pretty good imitation of liking her.”
    “I’m sorry I did. I’m not touching another girl until I find
one with the voice of Miss Hattie and the face of Maude
Adams. And certain other features, too,” he added, with a
furtive glance around the room.
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    “Who’s Miss Hattie?”
    “Singer down in the hotel I worked in. She was smooth and
slick as ice, voice like honey and an experience of life like you
wouldn’t believe. There wasn’t no place she hadn’t been…and
almost nothin’ she hadn’t done.”
    “Why’ncha marry her then?”
    “I asked. She said come back when I was twenty one…and
she was forty-five.”
    “That’d make her…uh…thirty-eight now.”
    “Yep,” said Marc, draining the coffee cup and standing up.
    Mrs. Biggs came bustling in. “What are you still doing
here? Go fetch your brother immediately—it’s dinnertime.
And where is that girl?”

   *

    Mark sauntered into luncheon with his head in another place
and time. He came out of the daze slowly and looked around
the table. It was deluged with an unusual silence.
    “Is it me?” he mouthed to John. No one was exactly looking
at him…but then no one was exactly looking at anyone.
    Father said, “If it’s so difficult, then have her just duplicate
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the supper we had the other night, the Poulet. That meal was
fancy enough for a dinner party.”
   “What’s the matter?” Mark asked across the table.
   “Six people to dinner,” John whispered back.
   “With two days notice,” said Mother, glaring. “I hope I can
get Aunt Lera’s Mary; if not, then I’m afraid it will be
impossible.
   “They’re not coming to eat, but to listen to the music. You
could serve beef stew and they wouldn’t mind.“
   “I would be humiliated! The very idea!” said Mother.
   “Call it Boef Bourgiononne, then.”
   “I beg your pardon?”
   He explained, “Braised beef with red wine and mushrooms.”
   She glared back at him.
   He ignored her and turned deliberately to Marco. “When
you’ve set the program with Mr. Bertrolli, I’d like to hear it.
Not more than forty minutes, remember.”
   “Sure,” said Marco absently. His left hand was drumming
on the table as he ate with the right. No…it wasn’t exactly
drumming…it was more like playing a symphony.
   “Please stop fidgeting,” said Mother.
   “Yes, Ma’am,” he replied. He laid down his fork and took
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up his water glass, then resumed the drumming immediately.
    “Was there something unclear in my instructions?” she
asked.
    “No, Ma’am?” he said, surprised at being addressed. He
was clearly not hearing a word that she said.
    “I asked you to please stop pounding on the tablecloth?”
    “Let him be,” said Father. “He’s probably just nervous.”
    “Yes, Sir. May I be excused?” Marc didn’t look nervous at
all, just distracted.
    “It is not our habit—“ began Mother.
    “Go ahead,” Father interrupted, deliberately not looking at
her. Mark felt a little sorry for her — not that she wasn’t
capable of looking after herself, but Father’s behavior was
awfully rude.
    “May I be excused?” Mark asked.
    “You may not,” snapped Mother.

   *

   Mrs. Biggs was distracted as well, when Mark walked in
before supper. She had Nancy stirring soup — usually a chore
reserved for herself — while she pored over piles of cookbooks,
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muttering mysterious incantations.
   Marco sat at the table, playing charades to Nancy to make
her giggle — Mrs. Biggs didn’t even seem to notice the girl’s
frequent squeals. Mark picked out a handful of cookies and
didn’t hear a word of reproach — and it was half-an-hour
before supper.
   “’Special’, she says,” worried Mrs. Biggs. “‘A cut above
the common crowd.’ What’s that supposed to mean?
Porterhouse instead of sirloin?”
   “What’s wrong?” he asked.
   “’A little exotic,’ she continued.
   “Is this Mother’s dinner party that you’re fussing about?”
Mark asked.
   “You were there, Mark, can you tell her what in the world
the woman is wanting?” asked Marco.
   “I wasn’t paying attention!” he said.
   Mrs. Biggs looked at him expectantly. “Just…just give her
something good and give it a fancy name. Mother won’t know
the difference.”
   “There you go, right from the horse’s mouth!” said Marco.
“Pick out your menu and I’ll translate it into French for you. I
don’t thinks she speaks a word on’it.”
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    Mrs. Biggs looked much relieved. “Thank you, dearies. I
don’t know but what that’s better than risking experiments on
strangers and having my heart run ragged a worrying. I’ll do…
whitefish with sour cream paprika, clear mushroom soup, beef
burgundy, asparagus out of the greenhouse with hollandaise
sauce, carrot salad and cheese, and…cup pastry with chocolate
cream sauce. Write that up, will you, dear? And Mark…”
    “Oh, no,” groaned Mark. “How many copies?”
    “Only ten; I’m sure you boys don’t need one.”
    “Ten what?” asked Marco.
    “Copies of the menu, in longhand,” said Mark, groaning and
wringing his hands.
    “But you do have the most handsome writing,” said Mrs.
Biggs, sugary sweet.
    “Two doughnuts a day, any time I want ‘em, the rest of this
week and next.”
    “One,” said Mrs. Biggs.
    “Any time I want it? Like now?”
    “You’ll spoil your supper!”
    Mark knew he had her…until he looked at the menu that
Marco was printing out carefully on a scrap of butcher paper.
Ten copies of that!
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    “It’ll have to wait until after supper,” he said, counting the
words on the menu and growling. John’s waiting on me for
chores.”
    “I’ll find you a box of that gold-edged paper,” said Biggsey,
beaming. “Nancy, get along to setting out the china, now. I’ll
take that.”
    Mark started to put his coat on, then reconsidered. He’d
puzzled over the mystery of the bedtime book for so long that it
was stale, and he was no closer to solving it yet. He might as
well just get it over with now.
    He usually avoided Nancy—she was boy-crazy and giggly
to a point where he was almost afraid of her — but now he
followed her down to the dining room and shut the door quietly
behind them.
    “Nanc—“
    “Yes?” She turned on her heels, smiling so wide it almost
sent him flying back.
    He gulped, backing up against the door facing. Her
exuberance dampened quickly when she saw who it was, and he
took heart again. “I found this book…in my bed…and I’m
wondering if you were to know how it got there.”
    “I — I put it there!” she said, eyes brimming in an instant.
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“And if I hadn’t ought to, then I need to be whaled but—“
   “I sure appreciated it. I’m finished reading it now, so if you
wanted to borrow it, you’d be welcome.”
   She was giggling again, but the tears were still threatening to
leak out of scrunched-up eyes. “I wouldn’t dare! I was that
sorry that I was so stupid — I ought to have knowed—“
   “It’s okay, really it is. You didn’t have to do it, though. I
got in trouble fair and square, and it wasn’t your fault a bit. I’d
offer to pay you back if I had the money, but I won’t until
Sunday.”
   “It’s no matter. It was Marco who bought it for me. He said
he was going to town — and I told him how bad I was a-
feeling, and he said he’d do it if he had any money left over
from buying the musical papers, and I reckon it’s him you
should be thanking, not me,” she added humbly.
   “No kidding? He did it as a favor to you?”
   “Yes, Sir — no, Sir. It was for you, I’m thinking,” she said
quickly, turning a little pink in the cheeks. “He wouldn’t have
no reason to do nothing for me — that’s wouldn’t be proper.”
   “Well, I’ll be getting along. Thank you all the same,” he
said, running for it. She was clearly about to cry again…or
giggle.
331




Chapter 34

   “Oh, John! You look so elegant!”
   “Can it, you nitwit,” said John, glaring at his reflection in
the mirror. He was dressed in a new, velvet-trimmed dinner
jacket and striped trousers.
   Mark gave a low bow in the looking glass, grinning at the
effect.
   “She’ll get to you next year,” John added. “Dress you up in
an undertaker’s coat. Send you to dancing lessons.”
   “Won’t be that bad,” said Mark, dancing a jig around the
room.
   “Better than this. I can’t believe I got to spend three hours
watching that half-witted pretty boy show off for company.
He’ll probably embarrass us all.”
   “I’m sure Mother thinks he’s going to.”
   “Don’t you?” asked John.
   “Who cares? You ought to talk to him, bud. He ain’t so
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bad.”
    “He’s a stuck-up show off.”
    “Well, look at you? Primping in the mirror like Bonnie
Belle.”
    “Who’s Bonnie Belle?” said John, turning away quickly and
striding out of the room. Mark followed him.
    “She’s the mayor’s daughter, see, and Bags catches her
sneaking in the wine cellar and demands to know what she’s
doing there. She faints — when he threatens to turn her in —
she faints and he’s fanning her face when—
    “Wait! You’ve got to get a better name than Bags. You
know you can’t steal another fellow’s character.”
    “Why not? It ain’t like I’m an author.”
    “Yet,” said John, pasting an insincere smile on his face
because they were entering into a room full of people. Two —
no, three couples were already there. Father waved his hand at
the boys, coming to their side as soon as they entered.
    Mark decided he’d better get his daydream going. There
wasn’t a person in the room who looked more interesting than a
turnip. And here came the maid showing in still another
gentleman and lady.
    “Mr. Adams!” said Father, almost jumping with enthusiasm.
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“Mrs. Adams, may I present my sons, John Vincent and Mark?”
   Mark’s smile was real for once, for Mrs. Adams. She was
small, black haired and peppery, and a whole lot younger than
her gray-haired husband. He waited to hear what John would
say. Being the oldest, John was expected to speak first.
   John was as tongue tied as usual at a social event. He
bowed and took the lady’s attention off Father long enough for
Father to whisper to Mark, “Go get your brother.”
   Mark left unobtrusively, shut the door behind him, and
whistled as he walked the ten paces to the music room. It was
good to get out…how in the world could people pretend to like
that sort of thing? Why not do something fun, for fun — like
go to the fights? Or go see a baseball game — he’d gone to one
once — that was a party all by itself.
   “Your presence is requested,” he said, banging the door
open.
   “Oh, shoot. Give me five more minutes, will you?” said
Marco.
   “Ain’t mine to give. Everybody’s here so I guess supper’s
about to start.”
   “Any pretty girls?”
   “Nope. Thought you’d given up on girls.”
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    “I can still look, can’t I?” Marco said, closing the cover over
the keys and leaving the messy scatter of twenty sheets of
close-written music paper all over the chair and the floor.
    “Here we go, back to the world of polite conversation,” said
Mark. “Don’t you think a baseball game would have been a
better way to entertain people?”
    “Or a fight.”
    Mark grinned and opened the door. “Just what I was
thinking. Now look — see that whiskered gentleman over
there, with the gray speckled sideburns? I picture him as the
backer of…Gentleman Mugs Martin. He’s got a bet for five
hundred dollars on Mugs to win the fight, but what he don’t
know is that Mugs once borrowed a dollar off the other fighter
to buy some chocolate on a freezing cold day. The other fighter
is the young aspiring heavyweight…Don Turner. He’s
supporting an invalid wife and four children in a tumble-down
shack on the east canal. His sponsor is the brown haired man
going bald on the top — the twitchy one — and he don’t know
—”
    Mother came up fretting, interrupting his inventive
monologue. “Come with me, young man, and let’s see you
introduced properly.”
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    Marco gave a sideways grin and let himself be shouldered
along. Curious, Mark followed them.
    “You making all that up or are you some kind of reporter,
Ace?” Marco said behind Mother’s back.
    “Shoot, I can’t be a reporter,” said Mark, hanging his head.
Mother was waiting to interrupt a conversation in progress.
    “Why not? You write good and fast, you notice things that
other people don’t notice, and you’re real good at making up
anything you don’t know to fill in the story real good.”
    “I don’t write all that good,” said Mark, hiding a smile at the
matter-of-fact way that Marco’d said it. It was the best
complement he’d ever had.
    “What about that essay Hambone set? How long’s it going
to take you to write that?”
    “I already did. Did it during afternoon study.”
    “There! I spent two hours on it and wrote two sentences—
and I scratched ‘em both out.”
    Mark chuckled and caught John’s eye across the room. He
raised his eyebrows, wishing John would join in and be
friends….
    John looked away quickly, turning his back on the boys.
    “Say, what’cha write about ‘Honor’, anyway? I can’t think
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of squat to say,” said Marco.
    “Not telling,” said Mark.
    “Beg pardon!” said Mother, trying to work in a smooth
interruption to the general conversation. Everyone turned to
look at her and she quailed, not meaning to have attracted so
much attention.
    Father stepped in quietly, self-assured as always in a polite
audience. “Mr. Adams, may I present Marc Corbeau Vincent?”
    Mark's jaw fell open--after a long minute of shock he finally
shut his mouth so hard he almost bit his tongue. Mother would
never allow this — the name—
    She would. She was nodding and smiling, already leading
Marco over to the next group of people.

   *

    Continuing on the fight theme, Mark sat down and looked
around the table, plotting the mystery of the hundred-dollar
purse. His beautifully written menus were placed at each plate,
in accordance with some stylish trend made up in Mother’s
fashion hungry mind.
    He watched Mrs. Adams pick up the menu and say
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something chatty to her neighbor. Then she looked back
down…and giggled. He couldn’t hear the sound but recognized
it in the little jerk of her shoulders.
    She looked up, grinning, and her eyes widened a little to see
no one else grinning back.
    She seemed to be holding back a laugh. Mark stared at her,
wondering if he’d made a mistake in the copy, until other
people caught his gaze and stared at her too.
    “What a darling touch!” another lady was saying. “Your
cook must be French.”
    “Oh, dear no,” said Mother, purring. “But she does try to
improve herself, the dear lady.”
    “Can’t read a word of it, though. Would you care to
translate, Mrs. Adams?” said the gentleman at her right.
    “Oh…no. Anything that Mrs. Vincent puts before us will be
delicious, I’m sure,” said Mrs. Adams. She immediately laid
the menu down and turned to speak to the gentleman on her
left.
    Father looked down at his menu — he’d pushed it aside
carelessly as he picked up his napkin.
    No grin there — the pleasant unconcern of the perfect host
deepened into a brief scowl. It vanished before Mark was sure
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he’d seen it…but clearly, he was going to be in trouble about
something, soon.
     Glancing anxiously around the table, Father resumed his
conversation with the lady on his left, forcing a pleasant change
of topic.
     Losing track of the fight mystery, Mark was able to get back
to Bags O’Toole by the main course. As usual he ate three
bites and lost interest…but they were big bites, of course. He
was grateful when they stood up for a fifteen-minute recess
before the music performance.
     The boys could go into the smoking library, but since they
didn’t smoke yet, they tended to only go if there was someone
they wanted to talk to. He sought out John and followed him
down to the kitchen to congratulate Mrs. Biggs.
     “How was it? Did the fish get dry? I think there was too
much paprika in the sauce—when a person ain’t accustomed of
it, it might taste kind of strong, oh my—“
     “Perfect!” squeaked John, trying to get a word in edgewise.
     “I heard nothing but mmmms of satisfaction and burps of
culinary contentment,” added Mark, taking a molasses cookie.
     “If it were, why’d you still be eating?” said Mrs. Biggs.
     Nancy giggled into a snort, washing dishes against the back
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window. “Is it over?” she asked.
    “No but you know we could slip—“
    John interrupted his unstated wish. “We gotta go back.”
    “They’d never notice!”
    “For shame!” said Mrs.Biggs. “Wouldn’t you want to be
hearing your own brother’s playing?”
    John looked sullen and Mark tapped him on the shoulder.
“Cheer up. He'll probably mess up.”
    Mrs. Biggs gasped.
    The silence was strained, broken only by sniffs from Nancy
at the window. She’d stopped her washing and was turned
around listening.
    Just as Mrs. Biggs opened her mouth to explode, John
jumped up and strode through the door.
    “I’m trying, Ma’am, I really am,” said Mark sadly.
    "I never seen John to act so bad!" she exclaimed.
    Her pained expression made Mark feel guity. He knew it
wasn't his fault--or his problem to fix--but somehow it seemed
that it was.
    It was hard to leave the warmth and ease of the kitchen, but
Mrs. Biggs kicked him out after ten minutes on the clock.
Dawdling back down the hall to the music room, he arrived just
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as Mother and the other ladies were first to go inside.
    Mark hastened forward, not wanting to miss Mother’s face.
    “Aiek!” she squeezed a scream into a little mouselike
squeal. Smiling crookedly through tightly clenched teeth, she
gathered up the scraps of paper that had crept over two more
chairs in the last ten minutes.
    Marco was already playing — something somber and
chordy and totally un-show-off. It sounded like a church hymn.
    Two or three pencils were scattered on the floor too, along
with a quantity of black ashes that made it look like someone
had been smoking a cigar in the room. Mother walked directly
over the ashes, disdaining their existence, and her skirt swept
them neatly under the piano.
    “Now! If you’d care to be seated, we’ll listen to Chopin’s…
Ballade in C minor and then we can have some small
refreshment.”
    “G minor,” said Marco, ending the music and standing up to
stretch.
    The gentlemen began to come in, creating a general hubbub,
and Mark seized the opportunity to whisper to Marco, “What’s
the joke with the menu?”
    “Somehow the dessert got changed from what I was
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supposed to write. It said, ‘French pastries with cockroach
cream.’”
    “I must have misspelled something,” said Mark, chuckling
under his hand.
    “Oh, I’m sure it was my fault. Probably my printing was
hard to read.”
    “Now!” said Mother again, hovering nervously. “If you’re
ready…”
    “Certainly,” said Marco, sitting down and playing without
any fanfare or introduction, and no cool pause to bring the room
to a hush.
    It hushed anyway — and stayed that way. The concert of a
single instrument filled the room full and left no space for idle
chatter.
    It was breathtaking, even for Mark. Only when a pause in
the music gave him a chance for distraction did he realize
where he was and what he was hearing.
    From his seat at the far side of the room, Mark noticed
Father sitting on the edge of his seat and barely taking his eyes
off the young man’s shoulders. Mother seemed frozen in a
half-smile — every few minutes she looked around the
audience, checking all the rapt faces. Seeing them quietly
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concentrated, her smile would look a fraction more real as she
turned back front…until five seconds later when she repeated
the whole exercise.
   When the music ended, the room seemed to exhale into
applause.
   Everyone crowded up to the piano to offer congratulations,
so Mark and John gravitated over to the cakes and coffee set up
on a side table. The maid that mother had hired for the
occasion didn’t recognize them. Mark wondered if he could
ask her for a sherry without raising any eyebrows…
   Too risky. He took a hazelnut cookie instead.
   “John, do you think I could be a reporter?”
   “Sure. You always get hundreds on your essays.”
   “What’cha think about the name ‘Ace’?”
   “Ace what?”
   “Ace…I dunno…Ace Black?”
   “No, Ace Red,” suggested John, patting him on his red head.
   “Ha. What about Ace Maximus?”
   “Don’t you go getting an overgrown head, too,” said John,
looking darkly at the piano. Marco appeared to be done with
applause for the moment. He sat back down and began playing
something soft and unremarkable; Father and Mother were
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leading the audience over to the sidetable.
    “Look at Father’s face,” said Mark, jabbing an elbow in his
brother’s side. “Ever seen him look like that? He’s…
glowing.”
    “Yes, I have once,” John said slowly, staring. Father was
listening to a man talk, leaning his head respectfully to one side.
“It was when…when you won that award in school, for top
grades in the Latin class.”



Chapter 35

   Next morning Mark came downstairs late, prying his eyelids
open only far enough to not trip on the carpet. He hoped that
John wouldn’t have done all the work alone—and kind of
hoped that he would. Ace O'Toole had detected late into the
night, last night.
   Marco came storming past and almost knocked him over.
Marco went into the dining room.
   Sneaking along behind him, Mark looked in the door to see
what the commotion was all about.
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   “What kind of heartless jackass are you, anyway?” Marco
shouted. “She didn’t do nothing wrong!”
   “Didn’t do anything wrong?” said Father, calm and
sarcastic.
   “No! And it wadn’t her fault, anyway! I’m the one who
ought to be punished.”
   Mother spoke, almost as icy as Father had. “I would
certainly agree with that.”
   “How could you send her away?” yelled Marco, turning on
her. “She’s worked here faithful for five years. If somebody’s
gotta go, send me away!”
   “You’re not going anywhere,” said Father.
   That’s the truth, muttered Mark. But what had Marco done?
   Marco looked like he was getting ready to jump over the
table and strangle someone. He swallowed hard, getting his
anger under a tentative control.
   “You kick her out without a reference, she’s got nowhere to
go but the streets. Is that what you want to answer to, on your
holy judgement? That what your big-mouth preacher would tell
you to do?”
   “She’s not any better than that--” said Father.
   “You could find her a place to go to if you weren’t such a
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lazy old son of a bitch.”
    This time Father did get up, walking slow over to face the
boy like he expected him to back down. Marco didn’t back
down — he was already standing with clenched fists, crouched
in a fighter’s ready balance. He just waited for the chance to
strike.
    Father stopped, out of reach. “You’ll apologize for that,” he
said, trying to be severe but not achieving it.
     “I’m wastin’ my breath,” said Marco. He kicked over a
chair and stalked out, pushing past Mark like he wanted nothing
better than to have Mark start a fight.

   *

   Since Marco didn’t come to breakfast, Mark didn’t expect to
see him at the morning’s lessons either — but there he was,
scribbling in the mathematics text and scowling at the results.
   There were three minutes to wait, according to Mr.
Hammond’s desk clock.
   Speaking loudly enough to be heard by Marco without
having to address him directly, John said, “After dinner we’re
supposed to go help Mr. Pritchard gather sap. He’s sugaring off
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tonight and there’ll be a party. All three of us are supposed to
go.”
   “Why, thank ya’ for letting me know, dear brother,” said
Marco, looking him right in the eyes.
   “Huh,” grunted John, sitting down and getting to work.
   Distracted with the news, Mark wasn’t likely to get any
work done that morning, either. All three of them missed so
many problems that Hambone gave a ten-minute lecture and
reassigned the same lessons for Monday.
   “Next week’s essay, gentlemen, will be titled,
‘Perseverance.’”
   Mark wrote it down, wondering how to spell it.
   “And I’ll expect five pages,” he added.
   Marco raised his hand.
   “You may speak,” said Hambone, glancing at the clock.
Time was up but he always loved an excuse to keep them.
   “I just wanted to thank you, Sir, for giving us an opportunity
to write about such an interesting topic. Not that I didn’t enjoy
‘Honor,' but this is exemplary."
   “Character building, Sir, is a topic I would prefer to develop
even above the essentials of grammar and mathematics. An
opportunity to engage in self-discovery and present it in a well-
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thought out, reasoned argument—
   “Beg pardon, Sir. I didn’t mean to get you started again,”
said Marco respectfully.
   Hambone’s mouth dropped open for a moment. He pursed it
back shut and opened it only to squeeze out the words, “Very
well, then. School is dismissed.”
   Seeing Marco head for the front stairs, Mark tapped John on
the back and hissed, “Let’s go to the kitchen first and see what
that fuss was all about, this morning.”
   “Uh…okay," said John, not wanting to admit he was as
curious as his brother. "We won’t have to break ice in the
water trough again; thermometer was up to twenty-two this
morning and rising. Not that I couldn’t have used some help
with the pump….”
   Mrs. Biggs was working alone, out of breath with the
rapidity of her movements.
   “Something wrong with Nancy?” Mark asked. “Ain’t seen
her this morning.”
   “Haven’t,” snapped Biggsey.
   “Haven’t. She sick?”
   “If you really don’t know, it ain’t my business to be a-telling
you,” said Mrs. Biggs, banging the stirring spoon on the rim of
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the pot. She dropped the spoon with a clatter and blessed it
rudely, leaning over to pick it up from the floor.
   “Isn’t,” echoed Mark. “Tell us anyway, won’t ‘cha? Or
should we ask Father—“
   “I will be telling you, so you’ll hear the truth from someone
what ain’t afraid to be telling the truth!” she said, spinning
around to face them.
    “It’s all coming out now,” said Mark, grinning sideways at
his brother.
   “You boys — all three of you — need to have better
bringing up than to think it’s a game to ruin a poor girl with
your sweet talking and kissing on the sly. It’s a game to you —
but it ain’t a game when someone can get hurt bad for what you
call a little foolishment. No harm’s been done but I daresay it
would have been done if it hadn’t been stopped.”
   “Who caught ‘em?” said Mark, trying not to smile.
   She didn’t even acknowledge the question. “And you, John
Vincent?” she snapped, glaring straight on at John. “Do you
understand what I’m saying?”
   “I only kissed her once and it was a long time ago,” he
admitted.
   “If you aren’t engaged to be married to her, you don’t have
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no business to be kissing her. And if she don’t have the good
sense to say no then you oughta!”
    “Yes’m,” John said, hanging his head. “What’s going to
happen to her?”
    “She’s a good girl, and I’ll miss her,” said Mrs. Biggs,
turning back to her oven and checking the roast. “I went to Mr.
Vincent this morning, and asked him if he wouldn’t help her
out with a place and he’s going to get her on with the Norrises,
in town. They don’t have any young men in the family, thank
the Lord. I won’t say gentlemen because I’m not so sure even
we have young gentleman here, after what I saw.”
    Taking a deep breath, she continued, “They’ll be sending us
their Hannah, in her place, and Mr. Vincent will let out the
empty cottage for her and her husband.”
    “Did you tell Marco yet, that he found a place for her?”
asked Mark.
    “No, and I don’t see any reason for anyone to be telling
him,” said Biggsey, rounding on them again. “She told him
why she was having to go, and the tears staining that poor girl’s
face ought to be something he’ll be remembering for a long,
long time.”
    “He was pretty upset about it,” said Mark.
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    “I’m glad to hear it! No proper bringing up at all….”
    He sat down in a chair and tilted it back, grinning up at John.
“Called Father a ‘lazy old son-of-a-cuss’ — only he didn’t say
cuss.”
    “For shame!” said Mrs. Biggs. “You ought not to even
repeat it.”
    “Did he get a thrashing for it?” asked John.
    “Nope. Not yet, anyway.”
    “Too bad. Let’s get at the watering,” said John, heading to
the door.
    “Aw, come on—“
    “John Dearborne Vincent, stop right there!” said Mrs. Biggs,
fists on her hips. “Maybe if you’d show a little charity and
welcome the young man, he mightn’t need to show off so and
make such a come-otion. It’s the bad man what finds work for
idle hands, and what have you done to stop it?”
    “He’s not my responsibility,” said John.
    “Then it’s a mighty poor world you live in, where a hungry
orphan don’t get a crust of bread ‘cause you ain't the poor
house.”
    “I’ve got work to do,” he said, going on out.
    “He’ll come round,” Mark said, trying to placate Mrs. Biggs.
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   “And you!” she roared.
   He ducked out and ran.



Chapter 36

    After a dismal lunch — Mrs. Biggs seemed to have cried
salty tears into the sauce and over-peppered the pork loin —
Mark tracked down his half-brother in the music room. It
seemed tidier than usual — maybe Mother had won her battle
with the stacks of fluttering papers at last. Most of them were
corralled on chairs or tables.
    Expecting a battle, he was surprised when Marco stood up
quickly and came along, pulling on a light coat.
    “You’ll need more than that,” said Mark. “It’s a three mile
walk up to Mr. Pritchard’s. Put on a extra pair of socks and
come on out to the barn; there’s a heavy coat out there you can
borrow.”
    Whistling, Mark went on out and found the coat. He also
located a pair of old knitted gloves with holes only in the
thumbs and forefingers; for the crowning glory he added an
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ancient wool cap that had belonged to the old stablekeeper.
    “Probably got lice in it,” said John, watching him
impatiently.
    “Don’t tell him that! We’re going to be out there all
afternoon hauling sap — he needs it.”
    “Doesn’t matter,” said John, seeing Marco come up. “A few
extra lice wouldn’t be noticed, nohow.”
    “Who you calling a louse?” said Marco. It sounded like a
joke, but he didn’t seem to really care if anyone laughed or not.
He pulled on the clothes and followed them down the hill
toward the river, not looking up above the footsteps he was
following.
    “You’re going to like this,” said Mark. “A few hours of
work, then a supper you won’t believe and dancing, maple
sugar candy, and hard cider behind the barn if Will ain’t got
caught tapping the keg yet.”
    “How late do you stay out?” Marco asked. “It’ll be a cold
walk back.”
    “Mother and Father will be coming in the buggy and they’ll
take us back. Pritchard’s got a big stable — he can put up
twenty extra horses. We won’t be coming back ‘till late.”
    They wrestled through the briar bushes at the river’s edge,
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then cautiously stepped out on the ice. It was solid enough and
rough with old age, so they turned left and headed on down the
river.
   “Nice road, this,” said Marco, jumping up and swinging on
an overhanging branch until it broke. It was a sort of springy
maple or elm, because it didn’t break all the way through—it
just split at the joint and slid him off gently onto the ice.
   “Stop breaking things that don’t belong to you,” said John.
   “Yassuh, suh,” said Marco, almost cheerfully. He skipped
along to catch up and started humming as they walked.
   Try as he might, Mark couldn’t think of anything to talk
about that might bring a truce to warring nations. It was
enough just to walk in silence, thinking about the feast ahead.
Last year he’d eaten seven slices of pie and alternated each slice
with a plate of maple syrup candy—hot syrup poured on snow
and eaten with sticky fingers….
   They were over halfway there when Marco said, “Hey, you
can skate on this!”
   Taking a few quick steps, he lined up his shoes and slid,
grinning at the sensation.
   “Well, yes,” said Mark, laughing. “That’s why it’s called
ice.”
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    “Whoa!” called Marco, sliding faster. He got off balance
and flung his arms around in a whirlwind, laughing out loud
and narrowly missing a fall.
    “Do it right,” said Mark. “Don’t run, just keep both feet on
the ground and slide with both of ‘em.”
    Concentrating hard, Marco achieved about ten steps of real
skating before he hit a rough spot in the ice and had to take a
few running steps.
    “This is great! Race you,” he hollered, skating ahead.
    “Save your energy,” warned John.
    “I ain’t going to be out-skated by a beginner,” said Mark,
taking a few running steps to get started. He’d been skating on
ice since he was able to walk — he caught up easily and slowed
down, keeping pace.
    “Ow!” shouted Marco, doing a jitter step to keep his footing.
    They hit another rough spot and turned around, skating back
to circle John like a pair of happy vultures.
    “Come on, John,” said Mark, heading upstream again.
    “Look out where you’re going,” hollered John. “We already
had two thaws this spring.”
    It was getting harder to stay even with Marco. Dang!
    Mark was out of breath but hs brother wasn’t breathing hard
355

at all. The only way to win this one was to sprint it. Mark
timed his slides to hit the next rough spot on his left foot and
then trot over it, picking up the slide after three steps—
    Looking back, Mark saw his half-brother flailing his arms in
the air. He’d hit a wet spot! Mark watched as he fell, spinning
and sprawling and laughing his fool head off.
    He’ll never catch up now, Mark thought.
    Opening his own mouth to shout victory, he heard a strange
crinkle of stars…and looked down at a faceful of ice water—

   *

   John ran as hard as he could, skidding to a stop on the edge
and backstepping furiously as another ten feet of ice crushed
into slivers. Mark’s head had vanished.
   Eyes glued on the spot where he’d last seen the plaid cap
disappear; he watched only the head resurface. It was just a
spot—he almost couldn’t see past the glare of cold sun on ice
water.
    Mark’s arms were thrashing but he wasn’t going anywhere
— maybe drifting to mid-stream—
   “Why don’t he swim for shore?” shouted Marco, running up
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beside him.
    “I dunno! Get something — get a vine —“
    John ran to the edge of the woods, frantically searching for
a branch — but it was useless. The pool of deep water was
forty foot from the bank and Mark was in the middle of it —
why didn’t he swim?
    He looked back and saw Mark still struggling — farther
away now — and Marco kicking off his shoes and coat. He ran
to the farthest stretch of good ice and dove, jumping a long way
out and diving shallow, hands pointed out in front like he was
praying.
    “Don’t—“ the words died in the thin air.
    John ran along the bank to get nearer them. He tore through
the underbrush, ripping pants and skin in a careless panic.
    Marco was swimming strongly until he reached Mark, but
Mark’s head had slipped under again and he wasn’t hardly
breaking the surface.
    He’s dead. The shock—
    Marco seemed to be moving slower with every aching
breath. John squinted, trying to will them back — it looked like
Marco had grabbed the front of Mark’s jacket, trying to tow
him to shore — but his head dipped under as Mark started to
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struggle again, pointlessly pulling Marco under with him.
    John’s breath hurt. Mark wasn’t dead — but he was about
to be. Marco got an arm around Mark’s neck, swimming for
shore with the other arm and using all the strength of his legs to
keep them above water. Fighting the current, slow as it was,
he didn’t seem to be moving through the water at all.
    The strokes of Marco’s free arm were half as fast as they’d
been before…and they seemed to grow slower with every
second. Surely they weren’t…they weren’t freezing to death…
in front of his eyes.
    Shouting for help with all of his lungpower, John waded out
into the water and willed them to move. He crazily considered
swimming out himself…and knew it was hopeless. He’d never
been able to swim ten feet without stopping to touch bottom.
    He’d picked up an eight-foot branch — as long as he could
carry — and held it out. It didn’t even bridge a fourth of the
distance.
    His shouts died on the wind. Marco’s head disappeared
under the water and so did Mark’s, briefly. When Mark’s head
resurfaced it was noticeably closer…and still creeping sideways
against the current.
    Marco’s head reappeared, blowing spray. For a long,
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painful moment they stopped still—then he ducked underwater
again and started moving, regaining the yard he’d lost on the
surface and slowly moving closer, so slow that John couldn't
believe they were moving.
    He could only be sure they were turning to ice in front of his
face.
    His own legs were numb in the cold water.
    He stumbled, trying to move further, trying to keep upright
against the current — and trying to keep his eyes focused past
the freezing tears that filled them.
    The heads ducked under again –– he shouted for help,
fighting the current to wade up to his waist —a squeezing
pressure in his chest forced his heart up to his throat, making
breath come in freezing gasps and he couldn’t shout any more.
    When they came up the next time they were almost in reach.
He waved the branch, trying to get Marco’s attention but
realized that his hands were too cold to move it. Letting it go,
he struggled forward another step.
    When Marco’s head emerged again, his shoulders came out
of the water and John would’ve screamed if his concentration
would allow it — he moved deeper into the water and got an
icy cold hand in his grip — and then the whole body.
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   Floating and dragging Mark’s body and trying to move legs
that were numb to the thigh, he struggled back to shore,
planning out each step and executing it precisely.
   The water resistance lessened and disappeared and he
dropped to the ground in one foot of water, barely noticing that
Marco was still behind him, struggling out of the ice water
twice as slowly as he had.
   Mark was moving!
   He shoved his arms against the bottom, trying to sit up.
John had a sudden clear thought — he stood up, jerking his
brother to his feet and stamping his own legs to warm them.
   “Got to keep moving — you’ll freeze — move!”
   Holding each other up, they took a tentative step to the bank
and John felt a piercing fierce pain in his feet. He clenched his
teeth, trying to get a regular stride going but Mark was pulling
back.
   “Him,” Mark gasped, pointing back.
   Marco had collapsed on the edge with his feet still in the
water. His eyes were closed and his breathing was quick and
shallow.
   “Can you stand on your own?” John asked, letting go his
support slowly.
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    Mark nodded, wavering.
    John staggered back into the liquid ice and shook Marco’s
shoulder, yelling in his ear, but Marco didn’t move at all. He
was breathing—why wouldn’t he move?
    “Got to move him out,” Mark yelled.
    He didn’t seem able to move his legs without something to
lean on — he just stood, squinting his eyes.
    “Wake up!” John hollered. “If you go to sleep in this cold,
you die.”
    Grabbing a handful of the ice water, John flung it on
Marco’s face. That had an effect. He turned his head and
started to crawl away, turning over to his stomach and moving
with only his arms.
    “Not you too,” said John, grimly. He grabbed an arm,
braced his feet and pulled Marco up, catching him as he shook
violently and tried to pull away. “We’ve got to get Mark to a
fire,” he yelled in Marco’s ear.
    That seemed to stir some memory. Marco looked around
and started to stumble toward Mark. He appeared able to move
but not think — John forced him to put his coat and shoes back
on, pushed him around to the other side of Mark and they each
got an arm around his shoulder. A stumbling, tripping creature,
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they inched up the bank to the wagon track alongside the river
and walked slowly on it.
    After a painful half-hour, another track split left and uphill,
ending at a clearing where the sap-boiling bonfire was burning.
It hurt more to come close to the inferno than to stay back and
freeze — they lowered Mark to the ground and collapsed beside
him; inching forward slowly against the stabbing pains in their
feet and legs.
    A hearty voice startled them.
    “You’re late, boys. We didn’t leave much for you to do — I
had a family of extra help, didn’t I, Jim? What the—“
    He’d finally gotten a good look at their waterlogged clothes.
    “Fell in the river,” said John.
    Mark looked up at the words and the growing warming, and
seemed to be surprised at his surroundings. His eyes slowly
moved around until they lit on Marco, hunched up in a ball and
shivering, two inches away from the fire.
    “You saved my life, brother,” he said, trying to move a hand
forward to shake.
    Marco’s head moved around slowly, blinking to clear his
eyes. He managed a weak smile back.
    John shook harder. All of the screaming rage in the frozen
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river — all of the panic he couldn’t swallow back – it was all
waiting to swallow him now.
   He yelled it out instead—
   “Don’t thank him! If it hadn’t been for him you wouldn’t
have been there in the first place! He almost killed you!”
   The outstretched hands dropped to the ground.
   Marco staggered to his feet and backed away from the fire,
clenching his teeth to stop their chattering.
   “I would’a done it for anybody, even a stranger,” he said,
speaking real slowly. “And I wish you was one. Both of you.”
   He turned his back and walked away unsteadily, shoulders
hunched over.
   “Jim, let’s each get an arm and run these boys up to the
house,” said Mr. Pritchard, staring. “They ain’t going to warm
up with them wet clothes on.”



Chapter 37

  Two cups of hot tea and a quick dry of his clothes before the
wood heater did a lot to restore Mark’s thoughts. They’d been
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murky every since he’d hit the bad ice, and any attempt to
explain what happened since had come up against a vague,
smothering horror.
    The only thing he remembered for real was the feeling of
relief when Marco grabbed him. He’d not been able to see the
way to shore — everything was a watery confusion — and he
only remembered the relief he'd felt of finally having a
direction to swim in.
    The rest of the memory had vanished and he couldn’t even
tell a convincing story of bravery to the Pritchard girls. John
told him what had happened while he was drying off his clothes
at the bedroom heater.
    When they walked out, the Pritchard girls gathered around,
exclaiming…and all he could do was manage a sheepish grin.
    Mother and Father were there — Mother rushed up and
shrieked, grabbing his face in her hands. He couldn’t see the
rest of the crowd but figured the party was going strong.
    “It doesn’t feel cold — oh, do tell me it never happened!”
she exclaimed.
    Father pushed his way through the crowd to the parlor
fireplace, where Marco was sitting on the hearth, leaning
against the bricks with his arms wrapped around his knees. He
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stood up as Father beckoned, and let himself be pushed over to
Mark.
    “Exactly what happened, now?” said Father.
    “We fell through the ice,” said Marco, scowling at the world
in general.
    “That’s a lie,” Mark sputtered. John had walked up and was
submitting to a close examination from Mother, too — his
cheeks were burning red.
    “He drug—“
    “Just shut up,” said Marco, turning the mean look on Mark.
It stopped him short.
    “But—“
    “But nothing,” he said, pushing his way back to the fire. He
stood in front of it, turning his back to the room.
    John looked as puzzled as Mark was — and a whole lot
more ashamed. Since Mark was still tongue-tied, John finally
shook off his mother’s hands and said, “Mark fell through, and
we got him out. Don’t want to talk about it more.”
    “We’ll see if a hot dinner can’t warm them up,” said Mr.
Pritchard, clapping John on the back and leading him in to the
dining room.
    Mark followed close on his heels and headed straight to the
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pies. He put a slice of cherry pie, one of apple crumb, and a
good-sized chunk of pumpkin bread on his plate. He couldn’t
quite get a scoop of raspberry cobbler in-between the pies, but a
half-scoop fit pretty well. Looking around for a place to sit, he
nudged John who was standing beside Marco at the steaming
pan of chicken pie.
    “Save that for later, boys, and go directly to the good part,”
he said, waving his own plate in front of their noses.
    “You’re going to look like an apple with cherry-red cheeks,
you keep eating like that,” said John.
    It was a lame joke, but a better response than Marco’s. He’d
finished eating his scoop of chicken pie as he waited in line,
and now he didn’t even look up, just forked up an extra-large
slice of roast turkey and walked away.
    “You need to apologize,” hissed Mark. “What you said ain’t
right, and you know it.”
    “He needs to apologize,” muttered John.
    “What he done was a whole lot more than a beg your
pardon.”
    “All right, all right.” John’s face was finally beginning to
lose its haunted expression as he watched his brother shoveling
in pie. “You’re right. I was just mad and I still halfway
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thought I’d lost you for good.”
    “Then do it now,” Mark insisted.
    John hesitated, then followed him through the tug and
struggle to cross the floor filled with a mass of opposing bodies.
Marco wasn’t seated on the row of chairs in the kitchen and
hadn’t returned to his spot by the parlor fire.
    “Maybe he found Will’s keg,” said Mark.
    Mrs. Pearson’s head came out of the kitchen. “The syrup is
waxing, come help yourselves.”
    “Yeah!” said Mark, cramming the rest of the pie into his
cheeks. “Apologies will taste better over a big plate of maple
candy.”

   *

   Dancing started in as the candy disappeared. They looked
around for Marco a time or two, to take him out to visit the
cider behind the barn, but he never seemed to show up.
   Mark’s eyes were grainy and sleepy yawns were splitting his
head when Father stood and proposed hitching up to go.
   “Find John and I’ll round up your Mother,” he said.
   “John’s easy enough—he’s over in the corner sparking with
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young Miss Pearson,” said Mark.
    “Don’t let your Mother see,” said Father, smiling at the
sight. John and the young lady were sitting in the corner and
talking as intently as if they were in an empty room.
    “Why? Oh — farming folk aren’t high-faluting enough for
her, are they?” said Mark, trailing off the words. He was awake
enough not to insult his hosts under their own roof.
    Finding their coats with difficulty — nearly dry, they’d been
buried in a pile of coats on the bed — he and John stumbled out
to the stable.
    “Let’s take a short detour,” suggested Mark.
    “Oh, so that’s why you’re falling asleep,” said John,
following him around back of the barn.
    “Packing ‘her up, boys,” said Will, coming up behind them
with a couple of other fellows. “Last call.”
    Mark took a hearty swig and choked it down. “Marco been
out here, d’ya know? My half-brother, you know…the other
drowned rat.”
    “Not that I know on it. Ask Peter—he’s been back here
more’n I have.”
    “I no susch thing,” said Peter Harper, wavering a little on his
feet.
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    “Dan?” asked John.
    “Ain’t seen him since supper,” said Dan, taking a double-
swig.
    “You’re a reliable bunch of witnesses,” said Mark, laughing.
It made him a little light-headed to laugh hard.
    “I’ll do the harnessing if you want to look him up,” said
John.
    “Sure. Spend half my life looking for that kid…”
    Fifteen minutes later they were still looking. Nobody
admitted to seeing him after supper—nobody saw him leave the
house. His coat and gloves were gone from the bedroom.
    Driving home in a tense silence, they checked every room of
the house and found only Mrs. Biggs, sound asleep in her suite.
    “He probably fell asleep at the Pearson’s, off in a back room
somewhere,” said Father. His voice didn’t have a lot of
strength, but it didn’t have to carry far through a soundless
house.
    “He couldn’t have walked home anyway. He didn’t know
the way,” said John.
    “It’s a full moon,” said Mark. “And he broke off that
branch…it'd show him the spot to go up the bank.”
    “Was a full moon. Setting now.”
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   Mark went downstairs to the music room, followed
aimlessly by John and Father. It was eerily clean — he lit a
lamp and held it high, wondering where—
   “All the music’s gone,” he said.
   “There’s music all over the room,” said John, staring at him.
   “Not the stuff he was working on — see—“ Mark pointed at
nothing, realizing it didn’t make sense.
   “The Choppy papers, the ones he brought with him? And
them twenty some-odd pagers of paper the teacher give him,
plus all the stuff he wrote out himself. It’s all gone.”
   “You think he’s been back here, then?” asked Father.
   “It was here this morning. Stacked up neatly, it was, but it
was here. I noticed because I’d never seen it neat before.”
   “So you think he’s been here?”
   “Unless he hid it, yeah.”
   “But where…” Father turned around in a circle, looking at
the dark corners of the empty room as if he expected to find an
answer there.
   “He can’t walk to town at night. He’ll freeze to death,” said
John.
   “It’s not much below freezing—“ said Mark.
   “It’s twenty-nine degrees and falling.”
370




Chapter 38

    The moon was gone, but Marc didn’t need the light to see
the hard-packed ice that they called a road, up here. It never
seemed to get dark with all that stinking snow.
    He’d been moving at a fast-paced walk, as easy a rhythm to
eat the miles as he could muster. The exercise kept him warm
enough—other than chapped lips and a red-raw face, he could
go on this way forever…except that every muscle ached and his
legs were so tired they wanted to stagger.
    He could see the bridge up ahead…the bridge into town and
from there, it was only a mile or so…ouch. Only a mile.
    He wondered vaguely if he were missed, yet, and turned
around to check the road behind. It didn’t matter—
    Except he didn’t want to get caught, he reminded himself
fiercely…and felt the thought slipping away into a dull fog of
confusion. If only he could have told Biggsey good-bye.
    The thought was so old it almost put him to sleep.
    There was a wagon on the bridge. What way was it
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heading?
    He vanished into the woods as it turned toward him.
Couldn’t have been them, but—
    Standing perfectly still behind a tree, his eyes closed of their
own accord. It was warm there…except for the ice—ice up his
nose—
    Ow! He was lying face down in a snowdrift. Struggling to
stand, he shook his muffler free of snow and wound it around
his head again, covering as much of his nose and mouth as it
would. Mrs. Biggs had given it to him. As soon as he got
down south again he’d burn the coat and gloves happily…but
he’d hang onto that muffler.
    He’d figured out the way to the train station on his previous
walk to town. The second day he’d been here. He should have
left right then; it would have been a hell of a lot easier….
    The tricky part now, was not to attract attention from a
policeman. He needed a story ready…couldn’t say he was
going to catch a train — he hadn't no bag. He’d slit the lining
of the heavy coat and put all of the music papers inside, pinning
up the opening with a few straight pins borrowed from Nancy’s
pincushion…poor girl. Work at a crummy job for five years
and get fired over a bit of fun.
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    Streets were pretty crowded, for…nine o’clock? Ten? The
closer he got to downtown the more wagons and buggies were
rolling along, crowding him back to the sidewalk. It was
slower traveling on the board sidewalk, but at least he didn’t
have to watch for steaming piles of horseshit on the ground.
    “Watch where you’re going, boy!”
    Jerking his head up, he just missed running into a party of
slow-moving ladies coming out of the theater. Their escort
moved menacingly in his direction.
    “Sorry, Sir, I wasn’t—“ he tripped over a loose brick and
fell sprawling. Even the heavy coat wasn’t enough to ease the
way down.
    Crowded as the sidewalk was, no one made a motion to help
him up. He sat up and looked stupidly at his left arm—a bright
streak of blood decorated the space between coat sleeve and
glove. Pushing back the sleeve, he picked out a piece of glass
that had lodged in his forearm after slitting a red streak six
inches long.
    There was still a handkerchief in his pocket…he pulled it
out and looked at it dully. It was fine…slick white linen with a
hand-stitched edge; one out of the box Aunt Marguerite had
given him last Christmas.
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     The blood was running down his hand. He folded the
handkerchief diagonally and wound it around the worst cut,
taking the time to tie a knot with one hand. He could have sat
there an hour and nobody would have offered to help him up.
     Attracting attention…not smart. He stood back up and felt a
little better for the minute’s rest.
     The train station was only a little way ahead now. It was
huge even in the shadows of streetlights — it was tall enough to
arch over the smokestack of an engine, several engines — and
so big inside that the walk across the waiting room tired him
out again.
     He studied the schedule on the wall and decided that the
eleven p.m. sleeper to New York City was the train he’d need
to catch. It would arrive in New York at seven-thirty after two
short stops. He watched out of the corner of his eye as a man
purchased his ticket and was directed to the platform nine
waiting area, so he followed the man over and sat down as close
to the stove as he could get.
     The ceiling was majestically vaulted, with so many hanging
light fixtures it seemed light as day. All that empty space made
it cold — but each waiting area had a huge coal-burning stove
in the center. The long benches had high, elegant backs…and
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no padding at all. Marc sat in the corner of a bench, pressing
with his toes on the polished floor to keep from slipping off the
bare wood bench.
   Not quite asleep and not quite awake, he monitored the
comings and goings and slipped in and out of a dream of slow
movement. Each time his eyes came awake, it was to grab
Mark’s arm as he slipped under a sheet of wavy ice…or to
catch himself falling across a snowy grave. Only the last doze
was untroubled—
   His eyes jerked open and saw the waiting area rapidly
emptying of people.

   *

    Following the crowd’s luggage out to the train, he stood in
the line of people boarding and watched the porter loading
trunks and cases into a car at the front of the train, the first car
after the engine and coal tender. There weren’t any windows
— he’d hoped to climb in a window and travel to New York
snugly tucked in a pile of luggage. There was no door on the
front of the car, either.
    The only door was at the back, where the porter stood.
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    “Move on up, boy,” growled a voice in his ear — he’d been
standing still while the line was moving, leaving a three-person
gap in the line of people climbing aboard.
    It was tempting to get on…but useless. He’d be thrown off
and probably at a lot worse place than this godforsaken city.
He stepped out of line and strolled over to join the people
waiting with baggage.
    After a minute, the porter walked away from the baggage car
door to pick up a pair of particularly heavy trunks. He was
accompanied by a fat man in a heavy wool overcoat and silk
scarf.
    The man was saying, “These two trunks and the leather
trimmed satchels—yes, those — need to be kept together and
right at the door, because I’m a’needing them to be the first
unloaded and—are you listening to me?”
    Marc didn’t wait to hear more. He stepped quickly up to the
pile of luggage in front of the car, picked up a bag in each hand,
and coolly walked in the baggage car door. Disappearing
behind a stack of newspapers, he listened to the thump-
bumping of the porter loading the fat man’s trunks.
    The footsteps went back out of the door, and he breathed the
air of relief.
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    A high-pitched woman’s voice said, “Your boy went in
there and didn’t come out. You ought’a check and see he’s not
got knocked in the head or something.”
    “What boy?”
    “The one carrying the baggage,” she said, voice growing
fainter as she presumably walked away.
    The heavy footsteps clumped in the door again.
    “Git on out, yeh theiving ruff’in. ‘Fi have ta’ come in there
after yeh—“
    Marc stood up and sauntered to the doorway. “Gotta light?
Looking for my bag—left my smokes in there—“
    He was jerked out rudely and kicked down the stairs.
Avoiding a poorly aimed kick in the butt, he walked alongside
the train up to the fireman’s station. A burly man with a
premature baldpate was checking a bewildering array of gauges
on the steam boiler.
    “I’ll shovel for yeh, if you’ll give me a ride,” said Marc.
    The man turned around slowly to stare at him. His face
wasn’t too awful hostile.
    “Nah. The amount you’d shovel ain’t worth the dock in my
pay I’ll get for sneaking you on.”
    “No offense, but you’re wrong. I’ll shovel ever bushel, peck
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and quart you put on it,” said Marc, grinning as hard as he
could force it.
    “You look like you’re about to fall over,” the fireman said.
    The engineer came up and Marc knew the chance was lost.
Wasn’t much of a chance, anyway.
    He hadn’t any idea how to sneak on a train in such a well-lit
place. Clumps of electric lanterns were hung every twenty feet
on either side of the track. The building was so long that all
four passenger cars, the baggage car, the tender and half of the
engine were inside the building.
    He couldn’t jump on a moving train. Passenger trains like
this would travel up to fifty miles an hour. Freight trains were
slower, but he didn’t know where the yards were and hadn’t
much chance of finding them, this time of night. He stared at
the oval opening, filled now with a silhouette of an engine but
soon to be an empty portal to the faraway world.
    They…he shook his head to clear it. They had to start off
slow, didn’t they?
    Walking like he had a purpose, Marc went back outside and
walked around to the side of the station, where a medley of
tracks spread out like a fan. It was darker than midnight out
there; the snow seemed sooty and speckled underfoot. Pressed
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up invisibly against the shadowy building, he crept alongside it,
looking in the arched doors and running quickly past them. The
train to New York was at the second opening—from the light
spilling through the arch, he could see that it was just building
up a good cloud of steam.
    All of the cars had a door in the front except for the baggage
car—so that was it. It was the only place where he couldn’t be
seen.
    The train didn’t blow its whistle inside the building, but he
could feel the vibration coming like a herd of angry giants. As
soon as the engineer’s cab was past his sight, he started running
alongside.
    It was speeding up visibly as he sprinted to keep up. There
wasn’t time to take a careful aim — he jumped sideways and
caught the ladder rugs on the front of the baggage car.
    His legs swung wildly and he banged into the ladder, face
first. But he had a good grip with both strong hands — he
found the bottom rung with his toes, climbed three steps up and
stepped over to the coupling between the cars.
    It was a narrow perch, hardly wide enough for a piano stool.
And when he sat down on it, there was nothing to hold on to.
    The ground beneath his feet was only visible in flashes of
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streetlights, but he knew it was moving fast because of the
fierce, icy wind that was lashing his face. They weren’t out of
town yet and probably not moving at full speed, but he was
already shivering from the cold that ate through his jacket and
fingered his spine with the devil’s own hands.
    The only place colder than this would be on the roof. He
knew that with his mind, but really couldn’t imagine anyplace
colder. Even the ice-topped water of the river hadn’t been like
this. There he’d been able to fight back the cold with activity.
There, he knew that if he only kept moving, the cold would
retreat in the end.
    The wind kept whipping the ends of his muffler loose and
slapping them in his face. They stung like grains of ice. He
was shivering so hard that his feet almost shook off the
coupling.
    The city was gone. He could only sit and balance against
the turns of the track, every minute tensing up in anticipation of
a smash into bloody oblivion.
    Seven hours to go.
    Five minutes was enough.
    He stood and felt around blindly for anything to hold onto in
the dark. He couldn’t even reach the ladder from there and he
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couldn’t see it anymore.
    But just above his head there was a little shelf bolted onto
the frame. It looked like a seat for the brakeman — there was a
round wheel of a brake up on top — but he wasn’t going up
there. Unwinding the muffler from his neck and wincing as the
cold crept in a new outlet, he ran it through the metal support
for the seat and tied the ends in a triple knot, pulling it tight
with shaking hands. When he sat back down, he twisted the big
loop once and put his arms through the loop, pulling it up to his
armpits.
    It was solid…but he was too tired to be pleased with
himself. He could sit on the coupling with his back against the
car, and relax. The muffler would keep him from falling to one
side or the other.
    Pulling his coat up as high over his ears as possible, he
tucked each hand deep into the opposite sleeve, drew up his
knees and closed his eyes.
    “If you go to sleep in this cold, you die,” came a voice out of
the past, out of a long time ago….
    This afternoon.
    He opened his eyes and tried to see anything out the narrow
slit of gray between the cars. Sometimes the shade of gray
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varied from dark to black. He tried to whistle but the sound
wouldn’t carry against the wind. His throat was too dry to sing
and it hurt to even try to force out sound against a dull, deep
ache in his chest. There wasn’t anything to do.
   Guess I could say the rosary.



Chapter 39

    An unholy screech ended the opera. The lead violinist threw
down his instrument and ran at his face. All the players ran after
him, screaming bloody murder.
    What a gawdawful dream. Marc tried to stretch his legs and
didn’t feel them move…but he didn’t feel the train moving
either.
    What train? The memory came back slowly…it wasn’t all a
dream. It wasn’t so dark anymore, could it possibly be day —
day in New York City?
    A chunk of coal smashed into the car just above his ear,
sprinkling his sleeve with grit.
    “Hit ‘ya with the next un,” said a weary voice.
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    It was the fireman, standing on top of the tender and
throwing chunks of slate back. “Git off afore we load up. I’m
checkin’ next time.”
    “Is this New York City?” said Marc, twisting out of the
muffler with difficulty.
    “New York? Don’t be a dad-blamed fool,” said the fireman,
climbing down and out of sight.
    Marc's hands were cold, but he rejoiced that they weren’t so
cold that he couldn’t untie the muffler. It was a hard job in the
dim light. When he stumbled out onto the ground, he almost fell
flat on his face. His legs were so numb they couldn’t balance.
    The train was taking on water. There was a small depot
behind him, loading passengers onto a new car that had
apparently just joined the train.
    It was still night, but he’d had all he could take. He’d figure
out some way to get inside a train next time. Or sleep in barns
until spring.
    He couldn’t tell how big the town was. It was mostly dark,
but a sprinkling of street lamps indicated the direction to
downtown. Not much point in going there.
    On the other side of the tracks was a thin strip of woods.
Squinting, he could see an occasional spark like a firefly way
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off in the woods.
    It felt better to walk than to stand still, so he headed that
way. Walking drove away the vague nausea of being awake at
that hour of the night, whatever hour it was.
    He followed a hard-packed road of snow into the woods. As
he approached, the spark turned into a small, smoky campfire
with two raggedy men squatted around it. Bums…
    Like me. He walked up and stood beside it, keeping a
careful watch on their faces out of the corner of his eyes. Just
because they were bums didn’t mean they could be trusted.
Those pants he was wearing were still too new and affluent for
the life he was about to undertake. His shirt could be sold, too,
although it was hidden behind the jacket right now.
    “Where ya’ headed?” said the raggedier one of the two, a
man with fingerless gloves held out to the fire. The other man
had the reddest beard Marc had ever seen. It was snagged and
snarled like a wad of used yarn.
    “Come in on the train. My Pa was ‘sposed to meet me here,
but I reckon he stopped to get drunk fust.”
    Red-beard snorted, looking him over. His eyes seemed to
linger on the pants and the shoes.
    “Been up to Boston, looking for my brother. Joe Wells, ever
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met anyone that name?”
    “No,” said the raggedy one. He never looked away from the
fire at all.
    “No,” said Marc, sniffing. “Didn’t find him, but I did pick
up the awfullest case of the shits I ever ‘sperienced.
Gawd’awful place.”
    He stood quiet for a minute and saw them exchange a half of
a glance.
    Time enough to be out of there, Marc decided.
    “Ah, dammit. Not agin,” he said, bending over in pain. He
trudged away from the fire, staying close to the road but not on
it. When he got the just to the edge of firelight range he
stopped and fumbled at his trouser buttons, waiting….
    The men looked back at the fire.
    Good. He began walking as quietly as he could, angling
toward the road and keeping a careful eye over his shoulder.
    “Boy, you! Where you going?” Redbeard jumped up and
came running at him.
    Dropping stealth, Marc ran as hard as he could for the road.
It was only ten paces away—
    The raggedy man was sprinting down it, moving fast on the
hard-packed snow. He was going to intercept Marc as soon as
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he hit it. No chance of staying in the woods — a thicket of
cedar blocked his path.
    The old mug stopped right in front of him, grinning. A flash
of rage burned through him — he hadn’t come this far to be
robbed like a chump.
    There was a heavy branch just in front of the raggedy black
head. Marc took a good look at the jagged, grinning teeth —
like a ghoulish skeleton—
    He took aim and looked up at the branch. Without missing a
step, he jumped — grabbing the branch, he flung both feet
forward and aimed all his weight about one foot beyond the
stinking devil’s head grin.
    He hit solid. The man fell back and hit his head hard on the
ground. Marc scrambled to stay upright, kicked hard at a
grasping hand, and ran as fast as he could, straight down the
middle of the road.
    When he looked back, red-beard had stopped running and
the raggedy man hadn’t even stood up yet. He was far enough
ahead to stop…but he kept on, slowing a trifle and trying to get
a gasping breath to stay down and help him.
    If he stopped once, he’d collapse.
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   *

    Across the tracks he slowed to a fast, side-aching walk. The
streets were absolutely deserted. He walked around behind a
row of houses and came up the back alley, looking at each
woodshed and stable carefully in the faint scraps of streetlight
that made their way back there.
    Damn. A dog set into barking. He stepped faster to get out
of range, then slowed again.
    He was looking for a barn big enough to have a hayloft, but
he wasn’t going to find one there. All of the houses just had
small sheds or stables, barely adequate for a single horse.
Crossing two more streets, he came to a row of bigger houses.
    Here was a stable. It was only one story tall but clearly big
enough for ten horses and a cow or two. The door was…
    Locked. He wandered around and found a row of shuttered
windows, the ones that open into horse stalls and usually have a
long brown muzzle sticking out of them in good weather. They
weren’t locked.
    He opened the first one — with an awful creak of hinges —
and tried to look inside. Smelled like horses but it was as black
as pitch. He leaned over inside, feeling all around with his
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hands. Nothing.
    Just looking into that much sleepy blackness made his eyes
beg to be closed. Jumping up onto the edge, he swung his legs
inside, got ahold of the shutter to close it, and dropped, pulling
it shut behind.
    What he dropped on was soft and warm and moving.
    With a startled neigh, a snap of teeth just grazed his ankle.
He scrambled off, tripped, and wrenched himself up, grabbing
for the stall door with both hands. One arm over—he flung a
leg up to catch the edge.
    Ow! A wicked pain in the butt and the sound of ripping
cloth followed him over the door. He collapsed on the floor
and panted, ready to run again if the stable door opened. He’d
made a lot of noise.
    The faint sounds of the horses settled down to a sleepy quiet.
    He felt around the barn until he found a loose pile of hay,
shoved up in a corner almost as high as he could reach. It
smelled clean, too.
    Not that he cared. Climbing up the side nearest the wall, he
scrambled to the top and flattened out an area next to the wall.
He couldn’t tell for sure, but he guessed he couldn’t be seen
from the outside…and he really didn’t care right then. It was
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dark, warm—or at least not cold—and the feathersoftest bed
he’d ever felt.



Chapter 40

    Marc woke up to a dim light of day and a feeling like he was
being stabbed with a fistful of steak knives.
    “Get—out—“gasped a woman’s voice, punctuating a series
of vicious stabs through the hay with breathless gasps. He
couldn’t see her, but he scrambled away from the pitchfork
tines jabbing him in the legs.
    She couldn’t reach him without climbing onto the hay.
    “Do your chores for you—sure do appreciate—“
    She reached farther and just missed his ankle.
    “Thieving bum!”
    It was an enormous woman in an old barn coat that wouldn’t
hardly button across her massive front. Only the top two
buttons held on.
    “I ain’t! I was lost and cold—you wouldn’ta left a body to
freeze to death—
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    “Get out!” she hollered, throwing a pail at him.
    He slid down the hay and ran, barely missing another
vicious thrust of the fork.
    “Thanks for the bed, fatso!” he yelled, losing his temper
completely.
    It was full daylight outside, but the town seemed to have a
Sunday morning calm. Four wagons passed him, walking
sedately toward a white-fronted church. By that sight alone he
figured it was nine o’clock, the Sunday school time for
Protestants.
    That must have been a pretty lazy woman who didn’t even
do her chores before church time. He was grateful for her
laziness, but still he could have slept another hour or ten. He
felt like hell…aching all over, legs stiff as boards. Putting a
hand back to feel a cold spot on his butt — cold air was leaking
in like a sieve — he discovered a large rip and the crusty,
unpleasant feel of dried blood.
    Nothing he could do about that now. He wandered back to
the train yards, scouting around for a ride. It looked like both
the freight and passenger trains stopped there. In addition to
the depot there was a long line of tall warehouses built of
weathered gray board.
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    There wasn’t anyone around and no signs of a train. He
even walked up to the door of a warehouse, poking around like
a real thieving bum.
    No one came out to chase him away.
    It was getting sunny now so he found a warm spot out of the
wind. Sitting down on the ground, he tried to doze.
    Didn’t work. Flashes of what he had left and where he was
going kept deviling his mind, keeping him awake and tense.
He missed the piano most — darn! He’d never had a piano that
good to play on before. Nothing stopping him from playing
day and night, either — just a few hours a day in a schoolroom
and a few boring meals. They didn’t make him work, even—
    And they hated him. He’d have given his right arm to have
made a friend of the boys...and someday…maybe…a brother.
    They couldn’t neither of them fight but John, he had
something strong about him. He’d stayed up all night two
nights with that horse and not slept during the day, neither. He
had a honest look, too, something that Marc respected but
would never have in a million years.
    And Mark, he was full of the devil. They could’ve raised
cain together.
    He cursed, standing up and forcing his shambling legs to
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move.
    He’d be an old hobo before this was done. He walked the
length of the main street twice, looking for someone who might
give him a quarter. It was mostly deserted — church still on.
He found a bench to sit on in front of the barbershop. It had a
good view of two storefronts — a grocery store and a drugstore
— so he sat there and waited for something to start moving.
    A pair of girls swept by, hurrying, late to church. He’d
finally posted that letter to Cherry…reckon he should stop in
and see her. She couldn’t be in a better place for it to happen…
maybe he could get her to tell Grand-mPre before she found out
on her own. She could even tell Grand-mPre it was his, if it
would help…but he really wished she wouldn’t. His future title
wasn’t the sort of thing to hang on a child.
    Who cared? He’d be a long way away by then…or hanged.
    No one came out to chase him away during the hour of
church. His stomach growled a time or two but he ignored it.
He still didn’t know how far he was from Boston, but it might
not be far enough if he were caught stealing.
    The town came back to life suddenly. A stream of buggies
rolled by in a hurry for dinner. Boys tramped by, whistling in
the streets with a careful look over the shoulder for their
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parents. Gosh, it made him lonesome.
   Over at the drugstore, a woman draped in a cloak and hood
walked up to the door, talking with a short man in a fine
overcoat. He unlocked the door and they went in. After only a
few minutes they came out again — she stood politely as he
locked up the door.
   She was holding a bottle of medicine, a paper parcel, and a
small purse in her hand. Marc’s eyes caught the purse and
wondered if he could grab it — the street had a few people but
no one close enough to shout to—
   He watched, frozen in speculation, and saw her juggle the
items, tucking the bottle under an arm and transferring a fistful
of change to the purse.
   The man spoke just then — as she looked up to answer,
Marc saw a streak of silver falling to the ground.
   It was hard to sit still and pretend to be dozing in the
sunlight. The man and woman walked off. At the corner the
man turned right, tipping his hat, and she walked on ahead.
   Marc stood up and walked to the spot, trying to imitate the
purposeful, steady strides of the people around him. His eyes
didn’t leave the spot--
   There was a man heading straight for it! Gritting his teeth to
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stay slow and steady, he took off the muffler hanging loose
around his neck.
    Juggling it in shaking fingers, he dropped it on the ground
right in front of the man.
    “Beg pardon, Sir,” he said. He hadn’t used his voice in so
long it came out hoarse.
    “Humph,” snorted the man, pointing his nose to the air and
detouring around the muffler.
    Marc leaned down and neatly retrieved the muffler and the
coin. It was a coin then—but only a nickel. With a nickel he
could buy a cup of coffee and some bread…
    He stood silent, fingering the nickel in his pocket and
looking after the retreating form of the lady. Times past he
would have ran after her, given her back the coin and probably
gotten a sweet smile of gratitude for it. She might’a needed the
money. Maybe she had two sick kids and a derelict husband to
support. He was brought up better than this—
    And right now he was soot-covered, bad smelling, with a
bloody bandage on his sleeve and a rip in his trousers seat. His
right ankle was tore up too. If he ran up behind a lady looking
like this, she’d probably scream.
    Another man went by, giving him a slow, suspicious stare.
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What the hell was he waiting for?
  Marc turned around and headed back to the railroad yards.

   *

    Somewhere around mid-afternoon a couple of freight trains
rolled through, heading north. They took on water and one of
them dropped off about twenty boxcars. Marc went on
watching, chafing at the boredom of his new life.
    Presently a southbound train steamed in. Loitering unseen
behind a stack of lumber, Marc heard the words New York in
the middle of a lot of cussing about overdue freight and
working on Sunday.
    It was a long train, mostly carrying empty coal cars. There
were about five boxcars in the front but he didn’t see how to get
inside one in broad daylight with a half-dozen men working
around them.
    The train only made a quick stop. As the whistle blew and
the loading men walked lazily back to the warehouse, he
walked up to a brakeman.
    “Sir, can I get a ride? I need to get back to work on Monday
or I’ll lose my job.”
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    The man looked him over, not saying a word. He was tall
and wide, with a dingy gray cap pulled down low over his eyes.
Each of his arms were bigger around than the average man’s
whole body. This was one man he wouldn’t win a fight against
— Marc found his sore legs tightening up to run fast if he had
to run.
    “Already lost my horse, that’s why I been walking. He was
stolen,” Marc added.
    “What’ll you give me for it?” asked the man, walking
alongside the train. It had started moving, but slow enough that
he could outpace it in a moderate walk.
    “I got five cents for it.”
    “Overnight rides mostly go for twenty cents these here days.
If you don’t get caught by the bull fust.” The man swung up
easily on the steps to the engine. From that angle Marc could
finally see his eyes and they were as hard as eyes got.
    “How far is it to New York City?”
    “Two hours and forty-eight minutes,” grunted the man,
taking out his watch and looking at it. “Les’see yer five cent.”
    Marc held up the coin. The train was moving a little faster.
He was having to step quick to keep alongside.
    “Hand it up, then,” said the brakeman, backing up the steps
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to make room for him.
   This is a bad idea, Marc thought, jumping up anyway.
Seemed like there had to be some good people in this world.
   He handed the nickel over. The huge man looked at it hard,
turned it over, and looked at the back. Then he pulled a little
bag out of his pocket and put the nickel in, closing the top up
carefully.
   The train picked up speed and the big man stood silent for a
spell, looking out over the brown and white edges of town. It
was a mighty big view up there. It reminded Marc of the ocean,
seen from a boat in the very middle. The town was pulling
away and it was all empty farmland, spreading bare to the dull
gray of trees at the edge of the horizon.
   It seemed lonesome, too. There weren’t any buggies in
sight; no cows; no animals. The distant farmhouses were
closed up tight and there wasn’t even a calico rag fluttering on
the clotheslines.
   The brakeman pulled his watch out again, looked at it long
and slow, and put it away.
   “Reckon you got your five cents worth,” he said, grabbing
Marc by the back of his coat. Standing a step higher, he hoisted
Marc up a foot, grabbed the bottom of his coat--
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    And flung him off the train.
    Landing on his side and skidding in the gravel, Marc jumped
up as fast as he could, cussing under his breath. He was too
mad to shout — and he wouldn’t give the ugly mug that
satisfaction.
    The train was picking up speed…
    The engine had turned a slight curve but the coal cars were
still rattling by. Running as fast as he could, he could just
barely keep pace with the car on the very end — it was
speeding up but he was catching up, taking out his rage in
running.
    He jumped for the step, missed, but got a hand crooked
around the second ladder rung. His feet would be under the
wheels in a second — he tucked them up and climbed
frantically with the strength in his arms alone.
    Playing piano for ten years was good for something after all.
He climbed swiftly to the top and jumped down inside.
    The wind whipped across the top, scouring the coal dust
loose and plastering it on his face. He turned around to face
backwards and sat down on the bottom, determined not to touch
the powerdery black grit with anything but his shoe soles and
trousers behind.
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   Two hours and forty eight minutes — he could stand it.



Chapter 41

    When the train squealed and groaned to a welcome stop,
Marc hopped up and looked over the edge. It was getting onto
dusk, but even in the growing haze he could see that these yards
were huge. He couldn’t see the end of them — there had to be
a hundred engines, a thousand cars and lines and lines of
warehouses. This had to be New York City.
    Keeping an eye out for the brakeman, he scrambled up the
side and climbed down the ladder. Thank God it was getting
dark — he didn’t need to see how black he’d become.
    There was a little group of men walking across the tracks.
They seemed to be keeping close to the sides of empty cars, and
they were walking quietly. Looking at the direction they’d
come from, Marc noticed a boxcar door standing open on his
train. It hadn’t been open before.
    Maybe they knew where they were going. He followed
along keeping out of sight. It wasn’t hard — no one was
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looking up from their dismal march.
    A cold rain started to fall, stinging as it hit his face. Awful
hard for rain. He caught a handful and tilted it up to the
streetlight.
    Ice rain, what’d they call it? He didn’t know the word in
English and didn’t really want to know. He sped up, practically
treading on the men’s heels. They wouldn’t notice him.
    The rain was blowing sideways as they zigzagged through a
maze of streets. Sometimes it was right in his face, coating his
eyebrows with ice; other times it was blowing in one ear or
other. He wrapped the muffler around his head, but it kept
slipping off.
    At last they joined into a larger crowd of men, waiting
outside a darkened storefront.
    “Ain’t it open yet?”
    “Would we be standing here if it was?”
    “Get off my feet.”
    Men were crowding toward the door, practically squashing
each other in their jostling mass. The heads that had hats were
frosted with ice; the others were wet and freezing at the ends of
rain-streaked hair. Shoulders and backs sparkled crystals in the
light of a broken street lamp.
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    The voices went on, worrying the minutes away.
    “There’s a light on in there.”
    “Hope they ain’t fergetting there’s a storm out here.”
    “Nah, it’s nice and warm in there. What do they keer?”
    “Prob’ly having a prayer meeting.”
    “What they want’a keep us standing out here for?”
    “Get off my feet, you—”
    “Stop yer shoving.”
    Marc walked away and leaned up against an opposite wall.
An old man was there too, squatting philosophically in the
snow. He was chewing on a toothpick in a corner of his mouth.
    After a minute, Marc sat down on his heels beside the man,
leaning back against the wall. He didn’t particularly want to
talk to anyone, but it felt good to have a seat mate as miserable
as him.
    “They’re going to hurt somebody before long,” said the old
man, shifting the toothpick from one corner of his mouth to the
other.
    “Yep,” said Marc, realizing his lips were so cracked and
sore it hurt to move them.
    “They’re afraid they won’t get in. But I never seen the
mission turn a fellow away, ‘cepting he wouldn’t cooperate.
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You willing to cooperate?”
   “Sure,” he said.
   “What’s that mean, you’re thinking. It means pray when
you’re told to, sing when you’re asked to, and shut up the rest.
They don’t like the crowd to get loud in there.”
   Marc nodded, sliding his knees forward to sit down. It
couldn’t be any colder sitting on the ground than crouching
above it.
   “You sick?”
   Marc ignored him, wishing he’d chosen to sit alone.
   “They won’t take you if you’re sick. Send you on down to
the hospital, and likely you’ll die on the way.”
   He was silent for a minute. Marc wondered idly why his
speech was so gentrified, but didn’t really feel like asking.
   “You look sick.”
   “What’s it to you?”
   The old man chuckled. “Thought you were about to freeze
into a statue, there.”
   “You want me to talk? Sure. Get off my feet, damn you.
When they gonna open ther door, they usually do ‘fore now.
Quit shovin’, you damned tarriers.’” He imitated the constant
mutter of the crowd of men, keeping his voice low not to be
402

overheard.
    “Think I liked you better when you were quiet,” said the
man.
    Marc grinned and wished he hadn’t. The pain in his lips
came back, hard. He rubbed them and saw a steak of blood on
his fingers.
    A policeman came by and began shoving the men back, but
just at that minute the door opened up and the mass turned into
a funnel, draining out the street in a few seconds flat. Marc was
just about to get to his feet when he saw the movement stop,
stoppered up in the depths unseen. The men were patient now,
standing still and waiting in line.
    “Does it cost anything?” said Marc, suddenly realizing he
might be waiting for nothing.
    “Five cents for a bed; soup’s generally free.”
    Marc stood up and shook the ice off his shoulders. He
looked up and down the street, cursing himself for waiting
without asking. There didn’t seem to be much reason to choose
one direction over the other.
    “Be seeing you,” he said to the old man.
    The man was having a little trouble getting up out of his
crouch — he twisted to one side and put a hand and knee down,
403

trying to push off from the ground.
    Marc put an arm under his shoulders and tugged him
upright.
    “Damned foolish way to sit,” grunted the man.
    The last of the crowd was trickling down the stairs to the
door, so Marc stuck his hands back in his pockets and started
off.
    “They aren’t going to turn away anyone in this storm,” said
the old man.
    “You just told me it was five cents,” said Marc, slowing
down but not bothering to turn around.
    “Tell them you don’t have it. And if they don’t let you in,
I’ll pay for you.”
    “That’ll be good for a joke,” Marc said sarcastically. “You
sure you want to play it? You’re pretty frail, old man — all the
laughing might kill you.”
    With his face turned to the streetlight, the man’s grizzled
whiskers sparkled in their coat of ice crystals. His eyes were
hidden beneath a hat pulled down low, but they seemed to
reflect a dull sheen of long-forgotten sunlight.
    Reaching slowly into a pocket, he pulled out a nickel and
flicked it in the air. It hit the ground, spinning.
404

    Then he turned and went on in the door.
    Marc picked up the nickel and tucked it in a pocket, then
followed him in. Six steps down in the darkness, then another
door stood open with light spilling out. It wasn’t bright but it
still hurt his eyes.
    The old man paid his nickel and stood back, watching but
not being too obvious about it.
    “Name?” asked a man standing right at the door. He had a
clipboard perched on a forearm. Most of the bums were finding
seats around a trio of long tables, sniffing the air for the
suggestion of soup.
    Marc pushed the door behind him shut with a toe. It was
almost as cold in the room as it had been outside.
    “Jacque Ebert,” he said, grinning as he watched how the
man misspelled it. It hurt so bad to grin that he stopped it
instantly.
    “How old are you?” asked the clipboard man, taking a
second look at his face. Marc hoped that it was so dirty it
would look like he had beard stubble.
    “Eighteen,” he replied.
    “You think I’m a fool?” snorted the man.
    “No, I think you’re an honest man.”
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   The man’s steady stare flickered, looking away for the
briefest of seconds. “Five cents.”
   “I…don’t have it. He said you might let me in anyway, on
account of the storm and I don’t have no place to go.”
   The man clicked his clipboard to his side, straightening up.
He shook his head, slowly, then waved at Marc to go in.
   “Don’t try it again,” he said, striding away.
   Marc followed the old man to the third table, one that was
only half full. There must have been thirty men in the chilly
cellar. A vagueness of heat was blowing over their heads and
Marc felt his fingers beginning to thaw out with the usual tingle
of pain. His toes were still numb.
   Marc laid the nickel on the table in front of the old man and
then sat beside him. It felt good to sit down, even on a hard
wooden bench. He tapped his fingers on the tabletop, testing
his reach. Not bad — they felt better than they had when he’d
climbed out of the river…yesterday.
   It had only been yesterday.
   The man was watching, curious.
   Marc tucked his hands back in his sleeves as the low mutters
of men talking began to die down.
   Stripping off a dingy white apron, an immensely fat man
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walked up to the side of the middle table. He dropped off the
apron on a chair and settled his collar.
   “Welcome to God’s House! Boys, I ain’t pretending you
come here for a sermon, and I ain’t intending to give you one.
But we’re here on a Sabbath, the Lord’s special day, and I don’t
know any way to celebrate it better than a hearty cup of soup
with my fellows and a couple of words of thanks to the divine
providence that gives it to us.”
   He went on and on without really saying anything. Marc
looked sideways and raised an eyebrow.
   “It gets worse before it’s better,” muttered the old man.
   “…sing a verse or two of ‘When the roll is called up
yonder’. Come on, lads—“
   He commenced to singing and the voices all joined in with a
will. A third of them might have even been on key.
   Remembering the old man’s advice, Marc moved his lips
but didn’t try to make any sound come out. He didn’t figure
he’d ever sing again; who’d care?
   The song was followed by a blessedly short sermon and a
painfully long prayer. When it ended with a loud Amen! of
gratitude, Marc leaned back in his chair and looked at the old
man again.
407

    “Told you to sing,” said the man.
    The first table of men stood up and lined up at the kitchen.
They knew the routine.
    “Don’t know how.”
    “Huh. You don’t know how to be mean either, but I see
you’re practicing. Keep it up and I’ll come visit you in prison
in a year or two.”
    “You won’t have to wait that long,” said Marc, thinking
gloomily about the future. It didn’t hold much to look forward
to, and he’d much druther change the subject. He couldn’t
think of anything to say, though, to make a conversation. He
asked, “What’s yer name?”
    “John Barton.”
    “Do your friends call you old Bart, or old Fart?”
    “My friends call me Mr. Barton.”
    “Do you come here ever night, or only when there’s
someone here to bullyrag on?”
    “Every night, for…counting tonight?”
    “Let me guess, one?” said Marc.
    “No, fooled you. Two.”
    The second table was standing up now, and the smell of
soup and clatter of spoons wafting over from the first table
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made it hard to wait.
    “I thought you had black pants on, but now I see they’re just
covered in soot. How’d you get so black?” asked Mr. Barton.
    “Stole a ride in a coal car,” said Marc.
    “Where from?”
    “Someplace cold.”
    “Where to?”
    “Somewhere warm.”
    “You planning to ride the rails all the way? Passenger or
freight?”
    “Freight,” said Marc, shuddering. “I got stuck on a
passenger train half the way here. I sat in between the tender
and the luggage car and nearly froze to death.”
    “You did good, for someone who didn’t know what he was
doing. Riding the blind is the only safe spot on a passenger
train, or so I’ve been told.”
    “I wouldn’t try it, if I were you.”
    “Meaning to say, if you were as old as me,” said the man,
crinkling his eyelids around faded blue eyes. He began the
laborious process of standing up.
    Stiff and sore as he was, it still itched Marc to walk at the
old man’s pace. Inside the kitchen there was a miniature tin
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cook-stove with an enormously empty soup kettle on it. The
last scrapings of the kettle filled Mr. Barton’s bowl full and
Marc’s half-full.
    “Take a extra piece of Johnnycake,” said the cook, pointing
over to a tin plate behind him. It held tiny squares of
cornbread, about two bites each. Marc crammed one into his
mouth while the man’s back was turned, then put two more on
his plate.
    The cracked bowl had brown scrapings around the rim but it
held a pretty good-tasting soup—not that anything wouldn’t
have tasted good at this point. It was mostly navy beans, with a
few chopped carrots and a zigzag of sliced cabbage in every
bowl.
    “They’re taking a big risk, feeding beans to all these men at
once,” said Marc, emptying his bowl before Mr. Barton even
got himself set down. “Liable to blow off the roof.”
    The man sitting across from him snorted a laugh, but Mr.
Barton just raised his eyebrows and gave his head a slight
shake.
    “How come when I make a joke, it ain’t funny?” asked
Marc.
    “It was,” said Mr. Barton. “Guess I’ve been living with
410

womenfolk too long. My brother would have made that same
joke.”
    “Womenfolk, where?”
    “Womenfolk are why I’m here, you might say,” said Mr.
Barton, moving his johnnycake out of Marc’s reach. “I’m
running away, just like you are.”
    “I’m not—“ said Marc, remembering in time it wasn’t
something he wanted to be talking about. He’d better just try to
keep old Bart talking. “Why are you scared of your woman?”
    “My wife died last year and my daughter Eppie told me to
come live with them. I didn’t need to be alone, she said, I
needed them to take care of me.”
    He belched silently, then took another bite and swallowed
like it hurt his throat. He crumbled up the bread into his soup.
    “I moved into her house with her husband, his mother, and
their two grown daughters that hadn’t married yet. And they
took real good care of me. I couldn’t smoke in the house and I
hadn’t ought to smoke at all, it was bad for my wind. I couldn’t
bring a pint of beer in the house, and if I stopped at the tavern, I
never heard the like of carrying on about the devil’s own drink.
I couldn’t cuss, I couldn’t have my friends over for a game of
checkers, and I hadn’t ought to talk even when they were
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having company because my…” he stopped to spoon in another
bite. “…my ideas were too old fashioned.
    “And I couldn’t even keep my chamber pot under the bed.
They said I got up in the middle of the night and didn’t take
good enough aim — I needed to go down to the convenience.”
    “So, you can’t smoke, drink, talk or use the pisspot,” said
Marc. “What’cha complaining about?”
    “Last straw came when I told Eppie to get me ten dollars out
of the bank, I was going to buy a new suit of clothes. I had put
my money in with theirs, so they could get at it if something
happened to me. She said, ‘No, don’t you do that. I’ll get a
suit for you. Your eyes aren’t so good and you might get
taken.’”
    Marc rubbed a finger on the crack in the corner of his mouth
and tried not to laugh. It hurt even to smile. “Your eyes ain’t
so bad that they didn’t see me a-eyeing your cornbread,” he
said.
    Mr. Barton was silent for a minute, finishing up his soup
spoonful by spoonful.
    Marc went down to the tin pail in the corner and dipped up a
couple of big dipperfuls of water. Drinking his fill and finally
feeling warm, he felt like he could go to sleep right then. He
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went back to his seat and leaned his head on an arm, waiting for
the end of the story.
    “I had a letter from my brother in the spring, so I thought I’d
go there. He lives in Bardstown, Kentucky, mending whiskey
barrels for a big distiller. He said he and his wife had plenty of
room for me. So I went to Eppie, told her to get me the money
for a ticket.
    “They talked it over and came back saying, no, I was too old
to be traveling so far alone. They said wait till spring and Jim
would go with me.”
    “Can I get you a drink of water?” asked Marc, getting up to
get himself one more.
    “I’ll get it myself, we’re fixing to get up anyway. So I got
mad and said then at least will you give me two dollars so I can
buy beer for my friends. And she did. I took it, walked right
out and left. And I haven’t needed taking care of for three
weeks now.”
    “That’s a good story, but what are you doing here? Why
ain’t you on a train to wherever that was?”
    “Two dollars aren’t going to get me there, Jacque.”
    “Oh. Is it a long way?”
    “I’ve been working at a furniture store, sanding down chair
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legs,” said the man, beginning his laborious preparations for
standing up. He lowered his voice and looked around the room.
“Got a little saved up — if you want to come along, I could
feed us if you could help me with the road.”
    “Do I look that honest?” asked Marc, amazed.
    “No, but you act it. I’d rather take a chance on you than be
here sanding chair legs till I peg out. What do you say?”
    “I — I’m heading south. And I aimed to travel fast. Sorry.”
    “Where, south?”
    “Louisiana, I reckon. Or Mexico.”
    “Do you know how to get there?”
    “I’ll figure it out,” said Marc. He hadn’t a clue, but didn’t
see any reason to let on.
    “Then I’ll tell you. Harrisburg, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati,
Louisville, Bardstown. My brother’ll give you a hot meal, then
I’ll write down the rest — Bowling Green, Nashville,
Birmingham, Mobile, New Orleans.”
    “I’m not going to New Orleans,” said Marc. “So this…
Bardstown, it’s on the way?”
    “It’s a stop on the L&N line and it ain’t twenty miles out of
your way.”
    The old man’s eyes met his with an open, honest expression
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— and that seemed a little suspicious. The line of men began to
move again, filing out though a side door to another room.
    It was filled with cots, each the size of a very small man and
covered with heavy canvas. There was a blanket at each one
and a spattering of small lockers scattered around the room.
Many of the cots had a locker standing at the foot like a
signpost at a lumpy graveyard.
    There were washstands at one end of the room and a couple
of closets that looked like privies. No one seemed interested in
the washstands, so Marc took the opportunity to scrub his hands
and splash at the soot on his face. He was glad there wasn’t a
mirror.
    He went back and sat on an empty cot, waiting for the lines
at the privies to clear.
    “You didn’t answer me,” said Mr. Barton. He’d lingered at
the water pail and just now came in.
    “Reckon I will,” Marc said, not really thinking about it.
About all he could think of right then was sleep.
    “See you in the morning then,” the old man said, walking
heavily away.
    When he’d finally gotten a turn in the privy, Marc collapsed
on the nearest cot and pulled off his shoes. His heavy coat
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made a pillow. He left his light coat on and just spread the
blanket, still folded, over his legs. He hadn’t felt so warm in
two weeks.
    He woke up once in the dark and took a minute to remember
where he was. The broken snores and nightmares around him,
all different keys, tones and rhythms — it sounded like the
tuning up of a grand orchestra.
    He went back to sleep wondering what they were going to
play.



Chapter 42

    A violent shaking woke him up. He cranked up an eyelid
and saw a man shaking the cot with the toe of his boot.
    “Move it out, you lazybones.”
    He staggered to the privy and returned feeling almost alive.
He felt lucky to see his shoes still under the cot. Out in the
other room, there was a big pail of weak coffee still half-full.
He took a cup and sat down, trying to wake up while he listened
to his stomach growl.
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    “I got to work one more day to get my last weeks pay,” said
Mr. Barton, sitting down beside him. “We’ll leave tonight.”
    Marc grunted. “Guess I better go hang around the railroad
yards then, so I’ll know what to catch out.”
    “No,” Mr. Barton said, with a smuggish grin. “I’ve been
listening to these hobos talk these last two nights. We want the
seven-thirty to Harrisburg, leaves off track ten. Hauls mostly
manufactured goods by the Price and Porter company but they
always run about half empties. Almost always good for an
overnighter.
    “Oh,” said Marc, surprised at the mass of information that
the man had gained by listening. “Nothing for me to do?”
    “Yes, follow me to my job and then you can fetch me a roll
from the baker’s down the road. A man ought to eat breakfast
— keeps him regular — and I’ve been missing it these last two
days.”
    “Yassuh,” said Marc, perking up.
    He put a little more energy into washing his hands and face
this morning. An idea had crept slowly into his dull head, and
after he’d delivered old Bart’s breakfast to a run-down furniture
shop at the edge of the business district, he walked down the
street nibbling on his own chunk of bread, trying to make it last.
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    Furniture, clothing, and hardware stores lined the streets.
He passed a bank, then walked an interminably long storefront
past a department store. Next came some classy clothing stores
and a jewelers—things were looking downright fancy when he
found a piano seller’s, fronting on the street behind a big glass
showcase window.
    He stepped inside, keeping quiet, and didn’t see anyone
working inside. So he sat down at the biggest of the big grand
pianos and just started playing.
    It was intoxicating. For the longest of spell-bound minutes
he didn’t even think — only when he finished Schubert’s
Sonata in B-flat major did he stop to stretch out his fingers and
wonder. The cold had taken its toll — there was a little
stiffness and a tiny loss of smoothness in the changes of triad
chords — but the stiffness was starting to work out already just
with normal playing.
    He didn’t dare to try an exercise – too noisy — just kept on
playing all of the Schubert Lieder he could remember by heart.
After three of them were complete, a black-coated man came
from the back and peered shortsightedly over his shoulder.
    “My pa will be along in a minute. Mind if I play till then?”
Marc asked.
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    “Go ahead,” said the man. He went to a small window
nearby and opened it halfway. Since it wasn’t overly warm in
there to start with, Marc figured he was exhausting the smell of
his unwashed body.
    Marc went on playing from memory. After a while he
noticed a handful of customers in the store and the black-coated
man fawning over them.
    “Oh, Papa, can’t we have that?” asked a sweet-toned voice,
almost at his elbow.
    “That’s a great deal more instrument than we have room
for,” growled a deep voice. Marc finished the Schubert and
started a Beethoven sonata.
    “Would you like to try it, Miss?” said the salesman. “We
can interrupt the boy—“
    “Oh, don’t,” she said. Marc glanced up and saw that she
was about eighteen, with a freckled face and a little pug nose.
But she had an evenness of features that made her face a
comfortable place to rest his eyes on. “Papa, which one would
we have room for, and perhaps we can ask him to try that one
out?”
    They wandered away, but presently the salesman came back
to tap him on the shoulder. The man looked quickly at his hand
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and wiped it carefully on his handkerchief.
    “Boy, take that over to the little upright over there,” he said.
He had a voice in the viola range.
    “Certainly,” said Marc.
    He walked over and bowed to the lady, then sat down and
finished the sonata. It sounded ragged to him — the keys didn’t
have the same soft press and the pedal, even applied sparingly,
made an unearthly echo in the upper register.
    He glanced back and caught sight of the piano that Miss
Minya had back in new Orleans. It was a little bigger than the
one he was playing, but still the same, basically.
    “Beg pardon, Miss, but did you try that one?” Marc asked.
    “No — would you?” she said, trying to get him to return a
smile.
    Marc was feeling more and more like a bum in his sooty
jacket and torn pants, so he just shambled over to the other
piano, trying not to turn his back on her, and sat down. He
repeated the passage that he’d just played.
    “It does sound better. Oh, Papa, let’s get that one!” she said.
    Marc stayed on the Baldwin until the sale was recorded. It
wasn’t the quality of the grand, but it was a whole lot better
than no piano at all. And he appreciated the audience — the
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girl listened quietly and watched the keys pressed down as if
fascinated by the process.
    When they left and the salesman disappeared into the back
room, he went back over to the grand piano and retrieved the
music from inside his jacket. All of his hand-written music was
ruined but the Chopin had dried overnight. The pages were
stiff. A few stuck together so tightly he couldn’t peel them
apart without cracking them.
    Two were recoverable — but they just happened to be the
two he had already practiced. He spread them out and played
them again, refreshing his memory.

   *

     Hearing nothing but the music for an hour or so, he stopped
to rest and listen to his stomach growl. From the angle of light
coming in at the window it was a little after noon. The room
was full of customers now — the salesman was talking to a
young couple while a pair of elderly matrons waited their turn.
Another family was trying out the spinets and trying to keep a
little boy in a long-tailed shirt from crawling underneath the
grand piano.
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    Another gentleman came in. Seeing the clerk occupied, he
tentatively tried out a key or two on the grand.
    “Good instrument, huh?”
    “Almost as good as my father’s,” said Marc. “He has a
Steinway but it’s thirty years old.”
    “I wouldn’t know a pianoforte from an icebox, boy. What
would you recommend for a pair of girls just starting out, and I
wouldn’t mind the boy taking it up in a year or two, heh?”
    “I’m sorry, Sir. I don’t work here; I’m waiting for my
Father. The Baldwin over there is a fine upright. I take — took
— lessons on one back—awhile.” It was embarrassing to get
so sentimental about a box, he reminded himself firmly.
    Walking quickly over to the Baldwin, Marc played a few
chords and looked back to the gentleman.
    “Will it stand up to a year of pounding?” the man asked
roughly.
    “Has to,” Marc said, laughing. He caught the eye of the
proprietor and saw him give a nudging nod over at the Wernster
upright.
    Marc lowered his voice. “There’s some what have a
brighter tone and a louder, but you can’t play soft notes on ‘em
at all and the echo’s awful.”
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    “Try this one,” said the gentleman, pointing out an ebony-
finished upright about the same size as the Baldwin.
    Marc hit a few notes without sitting down. “It’s not bad,” he
admitted, liking it.
    He saw a small forest of music racks that hadn’t been visible
before. This place was like heaven — ‘cept for the
interruptions.
    Grinning inside, he walked over and picked up a booklet of
Schumann’s Album for the Young. He set it on the piano’s
music rack and turned to the first page.
    “Here’s what you’ll be hearing for the first year,” he said to
the gentleman, sitting down. He played the song with fits and
starts, all out of rhythm, and alternately loud and soft.
Everyone in the room winced when he hit a glaring discord.
    “And here’s what you’ll be hearing the second year,
provided you give them plenty of time to practice and a good
teacher.” He played it again as a master would—beautifully.
    And easy as a smile.
    There was a hum of approval in the room as he finished.
    “You’ve almost talked me out of the whole idea,” said the
gentleman, chuckling.
    “We all have to learn,” said Marc, shrugging his shoulders
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and putting the music back.
    There was a book of the composer’s Forest Scenes nearby,
so he picked that up and took it back to the grand piano. He’d
tried it once, a long time ago when it was too hard for him. But
now it was just about right and demanded all of his
concentration.
    As he played it through in segments, getting a feel for it and
working out the fingering, he glanced back and saw that the
proprietor was positively smiling. He’d finished up with the
young couple and was talking with the matrons and the
gentleman together, passing back and forth between their
conflicting requirements with ease.
    This really would be heaven if I wasn’t starving to death.
    He’d finished the second song when he looked up and saw
that the thin, young salesman had been replaced by an older
man, dressed like a banker. He seemed disinclined to look in
Marc’s direction, but the steady stream of customers kept him
well occupied; he didn’t have to.
    Many customers stopped awhile to stare at Marc playing,
but only once was he interrupted by a young lady wishing to try
the instrument. He stood up at once, and moved far enough
away that he hoped they couldn’t smell him.
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    She sat down at once and the matron accompanying her,
who’d been talking to the proprietor, rushed over to shoo her
away. He couldn’t hear the matron’s hasty whispers, but the
young lady said, “Oh, don’t be silly, Mama.”
    She played a little waltz melody and smiled up at him,
saying, “There! What do you think?”
    “Your rhythm is excellent; you’ve a very pretty touch,” he
said, not adding that her pedaling was atrocious, her staccato
dull, and the flow of phrasing that made notes into melody was
complete absent.
    But she did have pretty fingers. She flushed all over with
the praise; the proprietor chimed in and her mother added a
guarded smile.
    “I’ll let you get back to your practicing now,” she said,
sashaying back over to Mama with her chin held high. The
younger proprietor came back into the showroom and distracted
them all for a second — it gave Marc time to give a healthy
scratch to his privates and sit back down.
    Didn’t help — the scratching just made him itch worse.
He’d had lice once — a long time ago in a seedy lodging house
in Paris — and that was just what it felt like now — and it was
in the only place he couldn’t scratch in public.
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    Playing staccato fifths for an exercise, he tried to see how
soft he could make them sound and still hear both notes. The
young lady glanced back a time or two, smiling in a superior
tone. Presently she sat down at an upright and tortured it for a
painfully long time while her Mama signed papers.
    When they left he turned back to the forest scenes and
played through the next one without needing to practice — it
had been the one he’d worked on before. The beauty of the
music seemed to settle a low-toned argument that had been
going on between the two salesmen. They both stopped to look
at him — he noticed this at a glance before returning to
Schumann’s peaceful world.
    In a very few minutes the store had filled up with customers
again.



Chapter 43

   “It’s time to close up,” said the thin salesman, shifting on his
feet like they pained him.
   Marc jumped up and swiveled to the window. He’d been
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thinking about going out to steal some food, and now it was
completely dark outside.
    “What—what time—“ he managed.
    “Six thirty. Your father wasn’t coming, was he?” the
salesman said dryly.
    “I reckon he got delayed. I’ll go long home,” said Marc,
swaying on his feet from the shock of sudden movement. His
empty stomach felt nauseous and the electric lights overhead
flickered in and out.
    He stumbled toward the door, hoping it would feel better
once he got moving.
    “You left something,” said the man, gathering up his papers
from the music rack. He looked curiously at their waterlogged
state and held them out.
    “Thank you, Sir. And thank you for letting me play,” said
Marc. As soon as the floor quit swaying he’d walk on out.
    The man snorted. “Boy, it’s I who ought to be thanking you.
I sold more pianos today than I usually sell in two months.
Some of those people had been in ten times before, looking, and
it wasn’t until today that they decided to buy. Other people
came in off the street, never been in before, and said they’d
been thinking about it for a couple of years and putting it off,
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until they walked by and heard your music.
   “You can come back any time, only my partner says you
need to clean up and put on some decent clothes first.”
   “If I’m ever clean and decent, I’ll stop by,” Marc said, trying
not to sound as bitter as he felt.

   *

   “You took your own sweet time getting here,” said old Bart,
pacing back and forth at the furniture shop. “Let’s get a move
on.”
   “You got anything to eat?” asked Marc.
   “I ate an hour ago, waiting for you.”
   “Then get me something, you old fart. I’m starving.”
   “There isn’t time; come on.”
   “It isn’t going to take an hour to walk down to the rail
yards.”
   “No, but it’ll take fifty minutes and that’s all we have left.”
   “I guess it will take fifty minutes, at your speed,” said Marc.
   The stores were mostly closed up now anyway; the windows
were dimming as they walked by.
   “Why do you keep scratching?” asked Mr. Barton.
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    “Huh? Damn — I hadn’t noticed. I must’ve picked up an
army of crabs at your charitable house.”
    “You didn’t use the blankets, did you?”
    “You didn’t warn me not to use the blankets! You told me
to do what I was told and not talk loud.”
    “Well, I didn’t tell you to use the blankets.”
    Marc cussed under his breath, happy to feel the weakness in
his legs fading away with the effort of moving. At the old
man’s pace, it was mighty little effort, but he was grateful not
be going any faster.
    The shops and stores fell away and they walked through
streets lined with warehouses. Streetlights were fewer here.
Only an occasional heavy wagon rattled by.
    “Do you know where you’re going?” asked Mr. Barton.
    “No — I thought you did,” said Marc.
    Old Bart stopped dead in his tracks, looking around at the
faceless brick walls. Nothing even showed a name in the
moonless tunnel of the darkening street.
    “Then we may as well go back to another night of drunken
snores and nightmares,” he said, slumping his shoulders.
    “I’m kidding, I do,” said Marc. “Pretty close, anyways. I
know we came past that really tall one up ahead; that’s where
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we turned left.”
    “Your humor is misplaced,” said Mr. Barton, turning his
back and creeping along.
    Marc missed a turn but they hit the rails and backtracked,
not missing too much time as far as he could tell. Only two
trains were steamed up and one was hauling mostly coal, not
the boxcars they expected for the Price and Porter Company.
    “Now tell me your wisdom,” Marc hissed. “Do we just get
on or do we pay first?”
    “The boys said that the engineer would mostly let you on if
you didn’t look like a thieving bum. Practice your courtesy and
let’s go ask.”
    Old Bart walked bold as brass up to the engineer’s station,
but didn’t call out. He didn’t seem to want to interrupt the
continual stream of low swearing from inside, finishing with a
“and you stay put, you son’fa bitch!”
    The whistle blew a test blast.
    “Sir,” called old Bart. “Sir, can we trouble you for a second
of your time?”
    “What?” said a deep voice. A head stuck out of the window
far above them.
    Old Bart tilted his head way back to look up. “My grandson
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and I wondered if we could trouble you for a trip back to
Harrisburg? We can pay.”
    You couldn’t see the face at all, but Marc thought he caught
a jagged grin that vanished in the window.
    After a scary second the engineer walked halfway down the
steps and Marc unconsciously stepped back.
    “You can get in one of them empty boxcars if you’re careful
not to get caught. The company’s hired a new bull and he don’t
take nothing off’n bums like you.”
    “Yes, Sir,” said old Bart, more humbly than Marc could’ve
managed.
    “He usually comes and takes a quick look right afore I leave
off, so you’d better wait until you see him walk by before you
get on. You got thirty cents?”
    Old Bart handed up the money and thanked him.
    They walked back to the empty cars at the end of the train,
but then old Bart walked away to hide in the shadows of a stack
of lumber.
    “What’cha doing?” asked Marc.
    “What he said, waiting for the guard to come by.”
    “Didn’t you see him smile when he went back up in the
engine? He’s taking us; I bet there ain’t no guard.”
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    “I’d just given him three dimes; I’d expect him to smile.”
    “I don’t trust him. I’m getting on.”
    “We can wait a minute and see.”
    Marc started to agree, but—
    “Kin you jump on a movin’ train?”
    “Me? I hardly think so.”
    “Then you oughter get on now. I’ll wait out here and watch
for him; if I see anyone coming I’ll give a whistle and you can
hustle out and hide around back of the wheels.”
    “I hardly think—“
    The train started moving as he spoke. Marc grabbed Old
Bart’s arm and hustled him over, pushing him up and onto the
step with both hands. Somehow they’d chosen a car with only
two steps up, not a real set of steps. In the dimness, it looked
like the third step had been abruptly broken off.
    It seemed to take an hour—and the train was moving faster
every second. Bart fumbled with the latch and Marc began to
run alongside.
    The train sped up and his legs felt like lead. It was a scene
out of some desperation nightmare, waiting for the—
    The door slid open. Old Bart’s legs vanished up and Marc
leaped for the steps.
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   He got an arm around the lower one and flailed around with
the other arm, trying to find a handhold higher up. The metal
bar gave a teeth-wrenching squeal and broke loose at one end.
   His second arm grabbed the top step and he drew up his
legs, trying to get a foothold underneath the car — nothing. His
head was pointed straight down, face to face with a screech of
crunching iron wheels. He grabbed the top step with the other
arm and let his legs swing back underneath.
   Directly over the rail.
   Don't fall—don't fall--kick clear and roll – kick what? There
was nothing to kick against but air. He stretched out a hand
over his head and found nothing to grab onto, just splintery
floorboards. The vibration was shaking him loose – there was
no way to fall clear, because there was nothing to push off of –
one big shake was going to finish him!
   He tucked up his feet again, trying to get them on the rail to
kick off.
   He was abruptly jerked under the armpits, up and onto the
floor. Good, hard, solid floor.
   He squirmed forward and felt his feet hit the door-edge.
   Safe as it got.
   “If you’ll move your feet, I’ll shut the door,” said old Bart
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calmly.
    Marc crawled over to the corner and retched, bringing up
only a drop of two of sour acid. He didn’t have the energy to
sit up against the vision of a thousand pounds of rolling iron
that was filling his eyes.
    “You sick?” Bart peered in his direction and then slammed
the door shut, closing out the dim glow of streetlights. Only a
stripe of light came and went in the echoing dark cell. “How
long has it been since you ate, anyway?”
    “You saw it,” gasped Marc, trying to sit upright. He found a
wall and leaned against it, listening to his pounding heart settle
down.
    “What, that bit of bread? I’m an old man and I eat more
than that in a day.”
    “How old are you, anyway?”
    “Sixty eight this December.”
    “Gosh, that’s older’n Methuselah. You got a pretty good
grip for an old geezer.”
    “I guess that’s how you say thank you.”
    “Yep.”
    They sat in silence for a while, watching the occasional faint
light of a town stripe across the box.
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    “I thought it was bad riding outside, but I swear this is worse
than a coffin,” said Marc.
    “Too cold to open the door.”
    “Tell me the story of your life, and that’ll put me to sleep as
well as gratify you,” suggested Marc. His stomach was settling
down.
    “I was born in 1811 in Birmingham, England. If I start with
my grandparents it will be a long story.”
    “Sounds good to me. Anything to keep the sound of wheels
crunching bone out of my head.”
    “You’ve got too much imagination, boy.”
    “I’ve stared death in the face before, but this is the first time
I ever saw it staring back.”
    In the dark it was hard to see if the old man smiled. “I don’t
remember my grandparents at all. I was one year old when my
mother and father came to this country and found a house in
New York City. Father had a good bit of savings to start a
shop, but it whittled away into nothing and he ended up taking a
job in a factory.
    “You can’t get nowhere in a factory. When I was just
starting to walk, they hauled up and moved from town to town,
looking for a living. Settled near Albany, working as a farm
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hand on a pig farm.
    “Nothing to do there except work, sleep, eat and procreate.
So that’s where I got four sisters — two are alive to this day,
and my little brother that we’re going to see. I had two older
brothers besides, and a sister. I was twelve when the youngest,
Frank, was born. Don’t know how well we’re going to get
along, but we’ll do all right. That’s what brothers are for, he
wrote in his letter.”
    “Brothers are useless,” Marc said sourly.
    “We always kept in touch with writing, all of us. My father
set a great store by writing, spelling and grammar. He still
wrote to his folk in England, every month when we could
afford the postage.”
    Old Bart chuckled, enjoying a private joke.
    “Go on, I’m about to fall asleep already,” said Marc.
    “He didn’t care much for arithmetic or history, so I never
used to bother to study them even though my grammar
recitation had to be perfect. One day he was building a chest of
drawers for a man — he was taking in woodworking on the
side, those days. He sent me to town to buy brasswork handles
for it and gave me four bits to pay for it. I needed nine at three
cents apiece and the clerk told me forty-five cents, so I paid it.
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When I went home and Father asked for the change, I gave him
the nickel.
   “You seen such a thrashing as I got, I can feel it to this day.
For spending the money and for lying. Next day my big brother
William went to the store and asked the clerk what he charged
me. The way William asked it – the mean way – the clerk
admitted he’d cheated.
   “When William told Father, Father brought me out and
apologized to me for thinking I was lying. He said, ‘Guess that
was a hard way to learn that three times nine is twenty-seven,
but I don’t suppose you’ll ever forget it.”
   “So you see, young man, brothers are pretty useful after all,”
old Bart concluded.
   “I wouldn’t know; I don’t have any.”
   “That so?”
   The old man paused, giving him a chance to talk…but he
didn’t feel like talking just yet. What was the point, anyway?
   “How’d you end up back in New York?” asked Marc.
   “I was a little older than you when I started noticing Maggie
Ann Curtis, the daughter of one of Father’s customers. She
went to our church, and every time I was noticing her, she was
noticing me back. Finally she walked up to me one day and
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asked me would I walk her home from church. I was so
confused at talking to, so I sort of blurted out, that I was
supposed to do the asking, not her. And she said, ‘You’re right
— how awful of me to be so bold.’ Then she just waited there
till I said, ‘Well, will you?’ She said, ‘Will what?’ I said,
‘Walk with me.’ And she said, “No, that would be too bold.”
And left it there. I had to keep asking her for two whole weeks
before she’d say yes again.”
     “How’d you know that she was the one you ought to —
never mind. I don’t really care no more.”
     “To marry? It wasn’t so much me that decided. Once she
set her cap for me, I was a goner. Never had a chance.”
     “That still ain’t got you to New York,” said Marc, yawning.
     “I went to New York to get one of those telegrapher’s jobs,
to make money for us. After my apprenticeship, I had a day off
so I took the train back to see her. And when I left that next
day, she was on the train with me. Scandalized her folks
something awful, what she did. She just packed her bag,
walked me down to the preacher, said the words and got on the
train.
     “She took in boarders until we started to having a family.”
     “That’s done me,” Marc said, laying his head down. The
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itching had finally let up long enough that he could close his
eyes for good.
    Old Bart lowered his voice, continuing in a monotone. “It
was hard work for her, but I helped out when I could. I never
did get fast enough at the key, to get ahead, but before long I
found a better job in a carpenter’s shop. Worked there until I
bought the old man out….”



Chapter 44

   Marc woke up when the train’s motion stopped. Peeking
carefully out of the doors, he saw only vague shapes of cars in a
vast train yard. The only light was a reflection of moonglow
trapped between clouds and ground.
   Two cars down they saw a door slide open and a man hop
out, scurrying to the darker darkness beside a low shed. After a
minute he walked back, got back in the car and was replaced by
another dim figure.
   “Let’s go talk to them,” said Old Bart.
   “No!”
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    Too late. Old Bart was already climbing down the steps,
moving slow and stiff. When he got to the other car he had to
stop and get his breath.
    “You ain’t no railroad bull, that’s for sure,” came a laconic
voice from inside the dark car. Someone lit up a match and
looked at both their faces. “Come on in.”
    The man used the match to light a pipe. Its light had shown
up another man still inside. Both of them were resting on
blankets.
    The man who’d stepped out came up behind them. “Don’t
stand there—you’ll give us away.”
    They moved aside to let him climb up, then Old Bart began
to ascend slowly, grabbing the side to pull himself in. His
breathing was quick and shallow.
    “Give me a draw, won’t you Jim?” said the man who’d just
come in.
    “I been saving this tobacco for four hours, waiting on this
stop to enjoy it. So it’s not that I don’t want to share, and not
that I won’t want to share, just that I ain’t ready to share jist
yet.”
    “Where you boys heading?” said Old Bart. It came out
more like a wheeze, but they heard it.
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    “West to California,” said the man with the pipe. “But right
now we just got to get to Pittsburgh by morning.”
    “Will this train get us there?” said Bart.
    Marc was itching to see their eyes. If they weren’t fooling,
he and Bart were already on the train they wanted to be on.
    “That’s what we’re waiting for,” said the third man, slipping
out the door.
    “Why morning?” asked Marc sharply.
    “Don’t know that it’s any of your business,” said the pipe
man.
    “Don’t—“ old Bart stopped a minute to get his breath.
“Don’t mind him, he doesn’t have any brains about people at
all. We were wanting to go to Cincinnati ourselves and then on
south.”
    “Aye, that’s our road. We’ll get to Pittsburgh in the
morning, sleep off in the woods for the day and maybe get a
bite to eat. I’ve heard there’s a number of trains leaves for
Cincinnati in the evening — empties, making good time, too.”
    “I’d be obliged if we could follow along,” said old Bart.
    The man lit another match and looked at them again.
    “You can come along. I’ve a job of work for your boy to do
in the morning, if you please.”
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   One of the other men made a shush noise, but without the
matches you couldn’t see what he was shushing about.
   “Shush, yerself. It’ll go better with a bit o’ salt. You hain’t
got any salt on you, do you?”
   The other voice griped, “You spread ‘em any thinner…”
   “Mine to decide on. I got six ‘taters, a sweet onion, and the
hambone left from the mission a days back. If he can go into
town and beg up some salt, we’ll find something to cook in and
hev us a stew.”
   “That sounds like, a delightful invitation,” said old Bart,
grunting as he lowered himself down to the floor.
   Marc plopped down and leaned back against a wall.
Shivering, he drew up his knees and tucked his arms under the
jacket. It would be better in here than in the other car, with
more bodies to make heat, but it was still colder’n Christmas.

   *

    The eastern horizon held a jagged definition of rooftops and
trees, but the rest of the world was black, black, black. Marc
walked along a dirt street, looking from side to side for a house
with a light in it.
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    It felt better walking, but a night spent dozing asleep and
waking up shivering had left him weak and dizzy.
    Here was a house. He could just see in the side window that
a person was moving around. The clatter of iron doors sounded
like a man building up a fire. He waited until the noise stopped,
then rapped on the door.
    “What the devil—“ sounded from within. The door
squeezed open a quarter’s width and a black stubble of
unshaven beard looked out.
    “Begging your pardon, but I was wondering if I could
trouble you for the loan of a spoon of salt? Store’s ain’t open
yet and my grandpa—“
    The man slammed the door shut.
    He’d start his story with the grandpa — no, make it a
grandma — and the mention of the stores not open next time.
He found another house lit up — the curtains were drawn but
there appeared to be several lights on.
    Stepping up on the front porch, he was still rehearsing his
story when the door flung open.
    “What is it? Oh! You’re not anybody!”
    “No’m. I’m traveling with my grandma to Iowa, and she’s
feeling poorly so we stopped to cook her up a pot of soup only
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the salt all ran out. Would you have a mite that I’ll pay you
back when the stores open?”
    “Whu—where is she?” said the woman, looking around like
she expected to see an old woman hiding behind him.
    “We’re camped down on the other side of the tracks,
Ma’am.”
    “And you wanted—?”
    “Salt, just a tablespoon.”
    “I can’t spare any. Go on down to the store, it’ll be open
directly.”
    “But—“
    She shut the door.
    The soup would be gone before he got back. Clumping
down the steps, he looked up and down the street and didn’t see
another light anywhere.
    Since he was going to be a murderer soon, he decided to
start small. Crossing the street, he wandered past three or four
houses, listening for a dog’s bark. There wasn’t any barking up
close, so he backtracked to a house that had a side door with a
washtub sitting outside it.
    The window next to the door didn’t show any light.
Stepping onto the low porch and holding his breath, he turned
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the knob.
    It was unlocked but the door wouldn’t open—probably held
with a hook inside.
    Failure at begging and a failure at stealing. He idly pushed
on the window, one of those with four panes of glass in the top
and bottom, and a bottom section that would slide up and be
held with a stick.
    It opened. He couldn’t hear past the heart pounding in his
ears—except for the hissing of his breath, the house seemed
silent. The window was too small to step into so he leaned in
across the windowsill and put his hands on the floor, inching
forward. Should’ve taken his shoes off—
    The room was murky dark. He stood up and tiptoed around,
feeling out the furniture. It was a kitchen sure enough. The
stove was cold. He felt all around the stove and located a little
shelf above it.
    He hit a spoon and cringed as it clattered down to the floor.
There was nothing on the shelf but bottles.
    He had about two minutes, if someone heard that. He
frantically felt over the cupboard nearby, not bothering for
complete silence now. A row of tins — he wrenched the top
off each, tasted it — corn flour, sugar, brown flour — the dry
445

taste made him nauseous again.
    The next one was salt — what to put it in? He slipped off a
glove and turned the top back, pouring the salt into the one
finger than didn’t have a hole in it.
    Still no noise — no — yes — there was a rustle of
movement coming vaguely through the door. He tucked the
glove in a pocket and pulled off the other one, filling a finger
with lumps of sugar.
    Steps sounded from above. He ran to the door and slipped
off the hook and ran--just as a voice rang out.
    “Stop—thief—“
    It was like a bad nightmare….
    Move sideways. He passed the next house at a fast clip and
ducked between houses to get to the next street beside.
Running as fast as he could, he ran full face into a wood fence.
    It was only chin height. He jumped up on it and scrambled a
leg over, then ran on around a house to the next street. Dogs
started barking, harrying him on.
    In another minute of running the houses thinned out and he
found a brick warehouse to hide in the shadow of. Slowing to a
walk, he dragged along low and felt lower than low.
    It took a real skunk to be a sneak thief. Stealing out of
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people’s houses…stealing scraps of food…where was any
romance in that? It was something a dirty dog would do. If he
got caught he wouldn’t even get a meal in jail — he’d probably
just get whipped.
    Mother had known what it was like to be poor. She’d swept
out the toilets of the Paris opera, mopped floors, washed the
ladies’ clothes….
     But if she’d ever sunk to stealing, it wasn’t a thing she’d
been willing to tell him about…and he kinda thought she
hadn’t.
    And she hadn’t begged, neither. She'd worked.
    The shade of the warehouse stopped and he was walking
through abandoned fields. There were only a few houses ahead
but he knew where he was. The railroad yards were just to the
left of him; he’d skirt them to the north and join up with the
other tramps in the woods on the other side.
    It was almost light enough to see colors, but this world
didn’t have any. It was draped in gray and dirty white snow.
He walked past the back of a wood-frame house and saw a
young colored lady chipping at ice with a hatchet. A big kettle
nearby hung crookedly over a small, smoulding fire.
    She stopped and looked at him as he went by. She was
447

probably less than twenty. Her coat was short enough to let a
foot of a flowered calico dress stick out, just to the ankles.
   “You have got to be the dirtiest boy I ever saw,” she said,
laughing.
   “What you doing, fixing me a bath?” he asked.
   “Thawing out water for the pigs,” she said, looking down at
her tin washtub. She picked up some chunks of ice and threw
them in the kettle.
   Marc noticed a tin pail beside her. It was half full of apples.
   “Chop you some wood for an apple,” he said.
   She looked hesitantly over at the axe, hove into a log about
ten feet long and a foot wide. He hoped she wasn’t expected to
chop it herself — she was a pretty girl and hadn’t ought to be
doing hard work like that.
   “They ain’t good apples. They just the pickin’s from the
cellar and not hardly good ‘nuff for the pigs.”
   “Oh,” said Marc, feeling like he just had the wind knocked
out of him.
   “I’m sorry,” she said, sounding like she meant it. “I—I
reckon you could get one bite apiece out of ‘em, if you’re
hungry.”
   He grinned and stepped over to the axe. She returned to her
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ice breaking, more energetically than before.
     Pulling his hands out of his pockets, Marc was surprised for
a minute not to have gloves on. The pain he’d been ignoring
was a big splinter from that rough wooden gate. It stuck out an
inch just above his left wrist.
     It bled freely when he pulled it out. He couldn’t see if there
were any slivers left, but it felt better. There was another cut on
his middle finger—it looked bad but it didn’t hurt.
     “Lawd, you a mess,” she scolded.
     The axe was decently sharp but it felt as heavy as lead. Four
good blows and his arms were shaking so bad he was afraid
he’d drop it. Feeling weak as a baby, he set it down and picked
up the chunks of wood, starting to build up her fire again.
     The heat felt good. It didn’t take much blowing to get it
alight — the wood was as dry as tinder. But he took as long a
time as he could about it.
     Unable to delay any longer, he trudged back over and
finished the chopping, taking each blow slow and easy. In two
trips he carried another load to the fire and left enough for
tomorrow.
     “That’s plenty, thank you,” she said, quitting her work and
tilting the pail of apples sideways, searching through it.
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    “You do this ever morning?” he asked.
    “I like doing it! Leastways, in the summertime. It’s good to
get outside while the air’s still fresh.”
    Marc almost smiled at that. The air right then was biting,
bitter cold.
    But his dry, cracked lips hurt too bad to smile. They were
probably bleeding again; he pressed his mouth against the back
of a hand and hid the bloody hand in his pocket, wishing he had
his gloves on.
    “Don’t laugh, it’s the honest truth,” she went on. “I get up
and cook breakfast so my man can have a bit afore he leaves for
work, then I do the chores and walk into town to my job. I
work until seven and he comes home before me, so I got to
scramble to cook up supper an’ do some washing. This the
quietest moment of my day.
    “Here’s a couple that have a bit in ‘em,” she said, holding
out two apples. “The rest is pretty bad.”
    “I got to be getting along,” he said reluctantly, taking them
from her and biting into one at once. There were about two
good bites and a nibble in it; he gulped down everything that
wasn’t shriveled brown and immediately started the second. It
was in worse shape — one bite and half a nibble. He tasted the
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brown part and decided it just couldn’t be swallowed.
   “Mercy! Wait a minute,” she said, hurrying into the house.
   He tossed the two cores into the pail and tilted it around, but
she’d been right. There wasn’t another spot of red or yellow to
choose from.
   “Here,” said the lady, coming back down the steps. She
held out another apple, bruised brown on top but more than half
good. “Here, take it.”
   “Thank you, Ma’am. I’ll save half for my friend, if you
don’t mind.”
   “Sho! I ain’t a Ma’am; I’m only Sadie.”
   “Thank you, Miss Sadie,” he said, walking on down the
road. He stopped at the turn to wave —
   She was still looking after him.



Chapter 45

    It took awhile of wandering around in the woods to find the
fire again. The sun had crept up, changing the world with glare
and shadows until at last it vanished into a gray mist that felt
451

like an icy cloud. It was a tremendous relief to see the huddled
shapes hiding a tiny campfire.
    They’d scrounged up a large coffee can; it was nestled
secure in between a pair of dry scraps of lumber. He could
almost smell a simmering stew.
    “Well?” said a voice. Looking around, he saw that the pipe
man’s voice of yesterday belonged to a short, round fellow with
a dark knitted cap pulled down low over his ears.
    He handed over his right-hand glove, indicating the middle
finger, and squeezed up close to the fire.
    The pipe man poured a little out in his palm, smelled it, and
dumped it all in.
    “Not overplenty, but it’ll make all the difference,” he said
cheerfully, giving the mix a stir with a stick.
    The man across the fire was tall and thin, wearing a black
hat that had a bite out of the brim. His overcoat had a big
scorch mark on the front. He looked restless, like he wanted to
jump up and start…plowing a field or something. He had the
hands of a farmer.
    The other looked like hundred other common Joes on the
street. Shabby brown cap, heavy overcoat running ragged at
the shoulders. Keen eyes, lids drooping a little from some
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childhood disease.
    The warm fire seemed to wake up his lice; Marc had to back
away from the fire to get an elbow free enough for a good
scratch.
    “We’ll get you some turpentine for that, when we get to
Cincinnati,” said old Bart. His voice was kind of weak.
    Marc gave him a quick look-over and decided he was just
tired. His eyes were as sharp as ever, staring at the fire as if
digging into the depths of it.
    “Crabs?” said the common Joe. “We had a remedy for ‘em,
back home.”
    “Turpentine,” said old Bart, looking at him as if he was
crazy.
    “Too slow. Here’s a faster one — first you get you a razor,
shave off your hair. If you got any,” he added, chuckling.
    “Go ahead,” said Marc, who knew the lice remedy as well as
anyone.
    “Then you stand next to a river, or a wash tub full of cold
water. Rub your lice all down with coal oil, soak ‘em good,
and set the can down a few feet away.”
    “Yeah?”
    “Take a match…then you light ‘em.”
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    “What’s the water for?” said Marc, joining in the laughter.
    “I’m expecting you to jump in afore you burn your pecker
off.”
    “Plumb foolishness,” said the farming man, chuckling with
the rest of them. He’d come out of his serious stare into the
fire.
    “I’ll try it, first chance I get,” said Marc.
    “Ready,” said the pipe man. There was a smaller tin can
sitting near the fire. He wiped off the bottom and dipped out a
can full of stew, setting it into a patch of snow to cool.
    Based on his recent observations of human nature, Marc
would have given three to one odds that the man had no
intention of sharing it with them. And ten to one odds that he
wouldn’t share even. He was surprised when the man spoke
again, stirring the rest of the kettle.
    “Looks like we get a full can each in turn, then we’ll start on
halves. Should be enough for two rounds here.”
    Marc fingered the apple in his pocket, saying goodbye.
He’d offer it up for desert.

   *
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    As long as he lay near the fire and turned back and forth to
toast both sides, Marc was warm enough to be content. He was
sorry when Joe came back and reported a train loading for
Pittsburgh.
    “You feeling up to snuff?” he asked Old Bart, helping him
to his feet.
    “Legs froze up from all that sitting,” said Bart, wheezing
from the effort. He looked white-faced in the thinning light.
    “Keep it low,” said Joe. “Brakeman at the middle was who
let me on, but he don’t want us yelling it for everyone else to
get a share. Follow me and stay in the shadow.”
    “I’m sick of skulking in the shadows,” Marc muttered.
    They climbed aboard the empty boxcar near the end. It was
weathered with age and splinters, shot full of plenty of holes to
let in a whistling wind. Bart sat down at once, slow and
exhausted, but Marc noticed he wasn’t too tired to choose a
corner in the front of the car where the wind would be at his
back.
    Restless, Marc paced the length of the car until Joe hissed at
him.
    “Jack! Quit making that unholy racket.”
    Startled, Marc looked around to see who else was there. It
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was only him — he remembered his stage name too late to look
natural. He made a mental note to say Jacque a hundred times
until it sounded natural.
   “Whatever your name is, then.”
   “Is your name really Joe?” said Marc, sitting down and
drumming his fingers on the floor.
   “Never said it was Joe. It’s Mr. Sutter, to you.”
   “Reckon this train is planning to leave sometime this week?”
   “Yep, brakeman said ‘bout eight tomorrow morning. Go ter
sleep.”
   “Huh.” Marc found a pair of slivers of wood and began
drumming out a rhythm.
   “Without the noise.”
   “I know, I know. Kin I whistle?”
   “No.”
   “Sing?”
   “No.”
   “Hum?”
   “No.”
   “Breathe?”
   “Try not to.”
   A whistle sounded faintly and the car gave a tiny shudder.
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Marc was on his feet again in a second.
    “Oh, to be young and stupid again,” said the pipe man,
sliding down to rest on an elbow.
    The train started moving, so Marc got to pace back and forth
without interruption.
    “Makes me tired watching,” said the pipe man, turning over.
    When Marc finally got too bored to pace, he sat down over
by old Bart.
    “Not sleepy?” Marc asked.
    “Just thinking,” he said. “Old men don’t need so much sleep
as you’all.”
    “How long a ride we got tonight?”
    “If this train is really going all the way through to
Cincinnati, it’s be afternoon before we get there.”
    “How do you know all that stuff?”
    “A man can go on learning even after he leaves school.
Why aren’t you going to school?”
    “I quit all that nonsense.”
    Bart waited a minute for him to elaborate, but it wasn’t
forthcoming.
    Finally he sighed, giving up waiting. “When I got the idea
of taking a trip to my brother’s home, I studied the railroad
457

timetable.”
   “Memorized it, did you?”
   “Yes, but it wasn’t hard. I have a pretty good head for it,”
said old Bart, refusing to take offense. “I suggest you
memorize the rest of the cities on your route to New Orleans.”
   “I ain’t going to New Orleans, I said.”
   “Maybe that’s so, but your head sure has a way of jerking up
when I mention it.”
   “I better work on that,” said Marc, chuckling. “I’ll never
make a living playing poker if I can’t hide a give-away better’n
that.”
   “I used to live there,” he added.
   “Miss it?”
   “Yes, but I’m not going back. Tell ‘em to me again and I’ll
learn ‘em this time.”
   “Bowling Green, Kentucky. Nashville, Tennessee.
Birmingham, Alabama. Mobile, Alabama. Then somewhere in
Louisiana that you ain’t saying.”
   “It’s not important,” Marc said, repeating the city names to
learn them. “I took the trip once before, coming up here, but it
sure didn’t seem this long.”
   “Guess you were riding a passenger train at fifty miles an
458

hour.”
    “I remember looking out the windows; standing on the
platform when I felt like it; making eyes at the pretty girls.
How fast are we going now?"
    “About twenty five, here in the mountains. It’ll be faster
when we get down on the plain.”
    “It’s a long time, any way you cut it. Tell me…tell me the
rest of your life. I went to sleep last time.”
    “Ah, you don’t want to hear that,” said Old Bart, sounding
like he was smiling.
    “Go on. You left it at having children.”
    “Two girls that lived, they were fine spirited ladies like their
mother. And one boy that lived. He’s traveling with the navy
now, off around the world somewhere. I never do know where,
from year to year. I wrote him before I left, to write me down
in Kentucky.”
     “Why d’ya say, that lived?”
    “You know why,” said Bart.
      “What’s it like having them that don’t live?”
    “I was sorry, you know. But for the woman that bears
them…it’s a whole lot more than that. My Maggie said she’d
lay abed screaming inside, hoping not to ever have another one
459

for the pain of seeing them gone.
    “She had two that died right after they was born, before she
had our first girl. One just died in the bed at night. The other
took the runs and died in two days. When she knew she was
starting to have the third one, she just cried in her chair every
night. I couldn’t get her to come to bed and sleep, she cried
herself to sleep in that rocking chair. Thinking about the babies
she’d rocked.”
    “How’d she get over it?”
    “I don’t know that she ever did get over it. You quit
thinking about it, after awhile, if you get busy enough. But
that’s the hard part, feeling good enough to be busy. If you
stop, you can’t do anything but think. Sometimes I think that’s
why—“
    He cut off, and Marc wished he could see the face to guess
at the secret pain hidden within.
    “So she had three that lived and two that died,” said Marc.
    “No, there was another boy. He died of the fever when he
was two years old. That was the worst, but it wasn’t enough to
prepare me.”
    “For losing her?” Marc said.
    Bart didn’t answer, but he might have nodded in the
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darkness.
    “Is it worth it, then?” asked Marc.
    “I don’t know.”
    “If you could keep busy, you might…miss her less?”
    “I don’t think it’s possible to stay that busy,” said old Bart.
    “Sorry…I didn’t have no business asking that,” said Marc.
“Tell me about the children that lived, then.”
    “As I said, two fine spirited girls. Eppie didn’t used to be so
darn bossy; reckon it came to her as she got older. And my
boy, wish I had him here. You come in pretty handy, but he
isn’t like you.”
    “Why ain’t he like me?”
    “Better grammar, for one. And he isn’t afraid to work for a
living.”
    Marc scowled at the darkness, feeling better to stay silent
than to argue about nothing. Old Bart didn’t know any better.
He hadn’t worked since old Bart had met him, and he probably
wouldn’t ever work for a regular job again.
    It was a hollow feeling.

                                                        *
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    “Here’s the place,” said Joe, pointing a finger at a cardboard
sign in the tavern window. It was getting dark but they could
make out the lettering, Free hot soup tonight.
    Cincinnati was even colder than New York had been, but
prospects were looking better already. They’d picked up a loaf
of two-day-old bread for five cents, at the closing hour of a
bakery. Then following a rumor of cheap lodging, they’d
ended up in the seedy side of town and found this tavern. It
was just opening up for the night.
    “Soup’s over here, gents,” said a red-faced man, stirring up
an immense pot on top of the heater. He’d taken in their
shabby appearance and guessed what they were there for.
    He didn’t seem to take offense, though. He dished them
each up a mug of steaming broth with a slight spattering of
chicken fat floating on top.
    They huddled around the stove, sipping the steaming broth.
Catching sight of something, Marc drained his soup quickly and
ignored the pain of his burning throat.
    “Another?” asked the man.
    There was an old piano pushed back against the wall in the
corner.
    Not bothering to reply, Marc walked over and jingled the
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keys…they weren’t so bad as to be impossible. Half of the
keys in the upper octave were missing, but only a handful of the
others were out of tune. A few of ‘em stuck and the F below
middle C didn’t sound at all…he wouldn’t frustrate himself by
trying to play Chopin on it, but it would do fine for a show tune
or two.
    A hymnbook lay on top — it gave him the uncanny feeling
of having seen it before. Where? He leafed through it and
realized that it was the same one he’d read through back in
Boston. He put it back down and pulled over a chair.
    Even with a sticking D and a soundless F, after a minute
getting used to the keys, it was music…and all he would ask
for. A whole lot more than he’d hoped for. His fingers were
stiff and the middle finger on the right hand had a splinter that
was slowly working its way out.
    But nine fingers and a half-a-piano was heaven.
    Finishing the soup, Bart and the other men sat down at a
table, sipping the cheapest cups of draft beer as slowly as they
could manage. Their heads turned toward the piano, smiling at
the music and thinking of better times.
    Their beer was gone and the bar beginning to fill up when a
man stood up from his crowded table to weave over and tap
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Marc on the shoulder.
   Irritated, Marc glanced back. The weaving man had come
from a table full of young fellows, better dressed than the
average — they looked like shop clerks or bookkeepers.
   “Play me that song, There is a Happy Land. You know, the
church song,” said the young man.
   “Don’t know it.”
   “’Course you know it. Don’t you go to church?”
   “No more’n I have to.”
   “Too bad. I had two bits here for hearing that song again.”
He held up a quarter and looked back toward his table, getting a
chorus of guffgaws.
   “I’ll sing it for a quarter,” said one of them, ducking the
imaginary blows of his friends.
   “Too bad,” the man repeated, flipping the quarter in the air
and putting it back in his pocket.
   “Put it on the piano,” said Marc suddenly. “I’ll play it for
two bits.”
   “You just said you didn’t know it.”
   “I don’t.”
   “But you’re going to play it.”
   “Yep; and sing it too, if you want.”
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   “Go ahead, then,” he said slowly, not taking his eyes off
Marc. Clearly he expected a trick — he laid the quarter down
and backed off, frowning.
   Marc picked up the hymnbook and looked up the song in the
index. Propping it up, he played a bar and then sang along for
one verse and a chorus.

      There is a happy land
      Far, far away
      Where saints in glory stand
      Bright, bright as day…

   He went on to he end, without interruption.
   “Thank you kindly,” he said, picking up the quarter and
tossing it to Old Bart.
   “You didn’t tell me there was a hymn book there!” said the
clerk. He hadn’t enjoyed the song at all.
   “Not mine,” Marc said carelessly, tossing the book back up
on the top of the piano. The young man turned on his heel,
scowling. He strode out the door.
   As soon as the door shut behind him, Marc turned back to
the keyboard. The song had sounded familiar and he’d just
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remembered where he’d heard the melody before.
   Playing the same music, he sang louder.

      There is a meetin’ house
      Not far away
      Where they serve white beans and bread
      Three times a day.
      Whoop! How those preachers yell
      When they hear that dinner bell
      Whoop! How those beans do smell
      Three times a day.

   There was a general roar of applause and laughter for this
one.
   “You making fun of me?” said a voice. It was the clerk, just
stepped back in from outdoors.
   “No,” said Marc. “Why, are you funny?”
   “Blame it, I don’t intend to be made sport of,” the clerk said,
getting his mad up.
   Marc started to play something else and paid no attention to
the blustering at his elbow. Clear enough, there was no way to
avoid a fight now. But he could at least postpone it.
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    “Shut up!” shouted the clerk, pushing his shoulder.
    “Aw, damn,” said Marc, turning around slowly.
    He took a careful second look — the man had swallowed a
beer or two to dull his perception of pain, but also it would slow
his reaction time down. His hands were white and plump, his
eyes squinted in the gloom like he spent more time indoors than
out, and he didn’t carry his arms right for a fighter.
    It wouldn’t be a hard fight, but he still didn’t want to.
    “I don’t want to fight, but if you want to so bad, I’ll lick you
for…five dollars,” said Marc.
    “Five—you little bug! Think I’d pay you to—“
    “You want’a fight, that’s what it’ll cost you. Otherwise I’m
just gonna sit here and let you swing at me. You probably hit
like a girl anyway.”
    The man swung hard at his face. Marc dodged aside without
thinking and the blow missed by a mile.
    “Fight back, you—“ puffed the clerk, swinging and missing
as Marc stood up and backed around the room.
    “If you really think you can thrash me, then the five
dollars’ll pay for my friends to hire a doctor to stitch me up,”
said Marc.
    He jumped over a chair and leaned on the back, tripping up
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the clerk in its legs. The man recovered upright with a wrench
and stopped for a second, breathing heavily.
    “It’s only decent,” Marc added.
    “Shoot, I’ll pay it,” said one of the men at the clerk’s table.
He stood up and dug around in his pocket, turning up two
dollars.
    “I’ll put up a buck,” said a second man.
    When they’d put together five coins and handed them to the
bartender for safekeeping, they hustled Marc and the angry
clerk outside. After a shrug and a sad glance at their empty
beer cups, Marc’s friends went along.
    “Get moving,” said the man who’d put up the two dollars.
    He shoved Marc forward and tripped him at the same time,
giving the angry clerk a chance.
    Off balance, Marc took a weak blow to the chin and
staggered to one side. He recovered with a lunge, shooting a
quick double-blow to the clerk’s kidney area.
     One of them took effect—the clerk doubled over. Marc put
all his strength in a left to the chin…what—
    Someone in the crowd behind had grabbed his collar and
jerked him back.
    “Give ‘em a chance, boy. The poor man's drunk,” said one
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of the clerk’s friends.
    Marc struggled to get loose. The clerk hit him, half in the
right eye, half on the side of his face. Marc twisted violently,
getting loose and placing a hard kick backward. It hit
something and he hoped it was the clerk's friend who'd held
him back.
    The clerk shoved him again, aiming another blow to the
face. It went wide and Marc jumped into the gap, sinking a
hard right deep into the stomach.
    The clerk doubled over and he swung again, getting a solid
footing and aiming to end it.
    One of the bystanders pushed him off balance, but he still hit
hard enough to knock the clerk off his feet.
    “Let him be, he’s had enough,” said the pipe man, taking his
arm.
    He and Old Bart got on either side of Marc, sheltering him
with their bulk. They led him back inside, followed closely by
the other two men.
    No one said anything. The clerk was still on the ground, not
exactly unconscious but not trying to stand up.
    Marc rubbed his knuckles, feeling pain for the first time. He
wouldn’t be able to play for an hour — that thought hurt more
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than the aches in his body.
    “Buy you a beer,” he said to old Bart.
    “Let me buy you one,” said Joe — Mr. Sutter. He retrieved
the five dollars from the bar and handed it to Marc, pulling
three dimes out of his own pocket to buy them all a round.
    Their table was still empty. They sat down, nursing their
full cups carefully to preserve every precious drop. Marc pulled
up an extra chair and turned his back on the piano.
    “Ye’ve a pretty knack for that thing,” said the farmer bum,
nodding at the piano. “You ought to keep it up.”
    ”Yeah,” said Marc, tilting his cup up in front of his face and
keeping it there.
    If he were going to cry, no one didn’t need to see it.




Chapter 46

   It was snowing again when they walked out of a charity
house next morning. Marc wrapped the long-suffering muffler
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around his ears and decided that at old Bart’s speed he’d have a
two-inch snowcap on his head before they reached the railroad
yards.
     “Stop in here and…” old Bart wheezed. The rest of the
words failed to carry.
     “You’re getting faint, old man. Let’s get a cup coffee in this
little restaurant here,” suggested Marc.
     “That’s what I….”
     They stumbled in, shaking off snow. A big woman came up
immediately, looking them over with a sour frown of
unwelcome. She had a black dress that was cinched at the waist
with a dirty white apron; the dress bulged out top and bottom
like a burned potato skin that had been split in the middle.
     “You got money, you show it to me,” she said loudly. There
weren’t many people eating — maybe five — but her harsh
voice drew a crowd of stares.
     Old Bart didn’t seemed to hear her — he moved off toward
the nearest table and started making preparations to sit down.
The woman moved to block Marc’s way — he wanted to wave
a dollar in her face and leave, but the chance had passed. He’d
have to pry Bart out of his seat to leave.
     He showed her a dollar, saying sarcastically, “Kin you
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change it?”
    The irritation on her face warred with greed and lost, of
course. You could tell she’d never passed up a chance to earn a
penny for something as unredeemable as pride.
    Marc sat down and asked for coffee and toast for the both of
them.
    “You’re losing your voice,” he said to old Bart. “How late
did you go on talking to me on the train, after I fell asleep?”
    “Wasn’t—“ Marc moved close to hear what old Bart was
saying. “—talking to you, I was talking to myself. Get a better
conversation…”
    “Huh,” said Marc. “I was sorry to say goodbye to them
three fellows. Don’t know how I’m gonna get us on a train
easy like they done. Where is it we’re going, now?”
    The sour woman brought over the coffee and two meager
slices of burnt toast. There was a sugar bowl and a creamer on
the tray, but they held barely a spoonful apiece.
    “How about some butter and jelly for this, ma’am?” called
Marc.
    She didn’t even slow down.
    “Just like being a ghost,” he remarked.
    Old Bart was daydreaming over his coffee cup, not even
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making a motion to stir it up. Puzzled, Marc dumped the
contents of the sugar bowl and creamer into the man’s coffee
and stirred it around. He put it into the man’s hand and
watched him absently raise it to his lips.
    When he set it back down, he didn’t raise it again.
    Maybe the trip has got him addlebrained for good. Marc
waved the toast in front of his nose until old Bart looked up.
    Nope — the bleary blue eyes were seeing just fine. He
could see the recognition in them plain as day.
    “You eat it, sonny. I haven’t much appetite.”
    “We can afford more. Do you want an egg?” asked Marc.
    “Old men don’t take much feeding,” said Bart. He started to
pick up the coffee, but set it down as if it was getting too heavy
for him.
    “Drink, then,” insisted Marc. He picked up the cup and
tilted it to the man’s lips, spilling a little down his chin. “You
want to rest up today, or go on?”
    “Don’t need rest…” said Bart, closing his eyes a minute.
“We been resting all night. Let me get a moving…”
    He made no motion to move.
    “Finish your coffee,” said Marc, cramming one slice of the
toast in his mouth and holding up Bart’s cup again. His hand
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was steadier, or else Bart was coming back to life. He got a
decent swallow down without having to clean up the dribbles.
    The toast was dry and tasteless as cardboard. He reckoned
he could go in back and demand a bit of jelly — if she had it—
    Suddenly he remembered the glove with the ring finger full
of sugar. He pulled it out and tried to dump it all on the dry
toast, but it was so damp and lumpy he had to squeeze and coax
it out. A little lint came too, but that was easy picked off.
    “Eat this,” he said, tearing off a quarter of the slice and
cramming it into Bart’s mouth. “Eat it; I already got my share.”
    Bart chewed, making a wry face. Marc followed it quickly
with a swallow of coffee, not wanting to choke the old man to
death.
    It seemed to take an hour to get the whole slice of toast
down, but it worked. Bart stood up on his own power and crept
to the door.
    The snow was heavier and wet, like it was turning to rain
sometime later in the day. Ghost gray buildings jagged up all
around, pasted by snowball clomps of a giant monster’s snow-
romp. It looked like a battlefield after the retreat. There were
no houses here, no fires, no cheery lighted windows. The
warehouses seemed deserted and even the horse-drawn trolley
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had a muffled, funeral clop as it passed them quickly in the
eternal street.
    It was four blocks to the station and beyond that, the
freightyards were huge, crisscrossed with iron in the six-inch
snow. They tripped over the rails and slip-slid to a shed that
backed up into a dense stand of cedar. The shed appeared to be
the central office — they could step up unseen into a jumble of
machinery and hear the talk of men signing in and out.
    “Go look for the L&N line,” whispered Bart.
    “It’s all L&N,” hissed Marc. “There’s no way we’re going
to do this in the daytime. Let’s go back and find some tramps
to ask.”
    “You go — I’ll stay here.”
    “Shoot, old man. You can’t stay out in the snow. Got any
matches?”
    “Yes,” said Bart slowly.
    “Let’s go back in the woods and build up a fire.”
    “Yes, I guess that would be expedient.”
    Verbal assent was good enough, but Marc still had to push
and prod him away from the poor shelter of the shack. They
walked into the stand of woods and ran directly up upon a
creek. It was too close to the yards to risk building a fire, but…
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the snow was getting thicker and the clouds were low overhead.
They just might get away with it.
     Of course the wood was all wet. Old Bart had a
pocketknife. Hauling the largest chunks of deadwood he could
lift, Marc soon whittled a sizeable stack of damp-dry inner
wood. It took five matches to even get it to smoking; finally,
cursing under his breath, Marc worked two of the ruined pages
of music paper out of his jacket and twisted them up into
lighters.
     No wind…but a wind could have helped him out. He blew
himself blue in the face and got a tiny flame creeping up the
tinder…feeding it like a baby, he let it scorch a pair of half-inch
twigs until it dried them out enough to catch fire.
     “You could help me, ‘stead of just sittin’ there,” he griped.
     Bart’s chuckle sounded like a wheeze. “Having more fun
watching…” he said.
     “Least you’re feeling better,” said Marc, building a pyramid
out of one-inch twigs. He immediately started on the next layer
— if the first one ever started to blaze he’d burn his fingers
trying to get it close enough.
     “Feeling fine,” snorted Bart. “You’d expect a fellow to be a
little tired, with the food and sleeping arrangements. Now, you
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go into town and take this ten cents—” He held out two nickels
and Marc took them. “Find yourself a dollop of turpentine to
cure them crabs. And find out the railroad schedules.”
   “Sure,” said Marc, grinning. “Let me get the fire going
good first.”

   *

   Shadows were long when Marc came back. He’d wandered
around asking every ragged man he met how to get to
Louisville. When he finally got tired of being laughed at, he
wandered back to the yards.
   There was a train taking on water; he walked up and asked
boldly where it was headed.
   “What’s it mean to you?” asked the brakeman closest to
him. The other men just snorted and went back to work.
   “Looking for a train to Louisville,” he said.
   “You done missed your stop. Passenger terminal’s over
yonder.”
   “Mister, I’m trying to get back home ‘fore my granny dies
— I had a letter over a week ago and it may be too late—“
   “What a story. Tell it to Mr. Hodges, here.”
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    The man coming up was shaped like a locomotive and
carried a heavy club, like a baseball bat. Marc backed away,
poised to run.
    “Mr. Hodges, we got a bum,” said the brakeman, grinning.
    “I ain’t—“ said Marc, eyeing the club. It was moving closer
— no point in arguing here. He sprinted away, quartering to
the woods.
    As soon as he was out of sight he circled around the yards,
coming up on another train loading. The place seemed huge in
outline — there had to be twenty trains taking on, taking off or
coupling up. Fine enough — the bull couldn’t be everywhere at
once.
    “Where you heading, Mister?” he asked a lanky man
striding along the track. The man spat before answering.
Swirling a plug of tobacco to the other unshaven cheek, he said,
“Somewhere. What’s it mean to you?”
    “Looking for a ride.”
    “Got any money?”
    “Yeah, if you’re going where I’m going,” said Marc,
keeping a good look over his shoulder for anyone overhearing.
    “Nashville, Tennessee.”
    “Darn,” he said, irritated. Finally to get a friendly trainman
478

and miss the destination. “I was looking for a ride to
Louisville.”
    The man smiled sideways, showing a gap in the bottom row
of teeth. “We take on water at Louisville.”
    “No kidding?” Remembering his list of cities after
Bardstown, that didn’t sound like a lie. He’d check.
    “Could you take on me and an old man?”
    “No empties. What you paying?”
    “Thirty cents for the two of us.”
    “Huh,” the man said, scratching his cheek and spitting again.
“For that, you can ride on top and keep me company.”
    The snow was still peppering his eyebrows. Shaking the
water of melting snow off his head, Marc said, “He can’t ride
on top. He’s old.”
    The man checked his watch. “Ten minutes. Put him in the
third boxcar and bring me the money. If you’re late, you’re
left.”
    Taking a careful look at the engine — in the shadows of
evening, they were all starting to look the same — Marc ran off
and thrashed through the woods, looking for a glimmer of light.
With the white snow underfoot and the tree trunks bare of
leaves, he thought he could make a straight run to where he
479

wanted — but he couldn’t. Every few yards was a fallen trunk
too tall to leap over or a thicket of grasping foxbriar. He ran
himself out and finally gave up, walking back to the edge of the
yards and sidling around it, watching anxiously for an observer.
    That was it! The grove of cedar where they’d struck off for
the woods. He couldn’t see the footprints in the snow anymore,
but he could guess the route by the lie of the land.
    “Mr. Barton! Answer me, you—“
    “Hush, sonny. You want to wake the dead?” The voice at
his elbow startled him a foot into the air.
    “Hurry! I got a train for us,” Marc grabbed his arm and tried
to move him along, despairing at the distance. If he could take
a shortcut through the middle—
    “Where are we going?” wheezed old Bart. Quickening his
steps by half was already starting to wear him out.
    “Over there!” Marc pointed. “We’ll never make it at this
pace.”
    “Then we’ll cut through. I’d rather bet on a horse with a
broken leg than one standing in the stables.”
    “What?” whispered Marc, squeezing his mouth shut to keep
from chuckling. They started out across the tracks, moving as
still as possible but trying not to slink. Possibly they’d be taken
480

for workmen in the dusk.
    “Better to gamble than to stay on a safe road that isn’t
getting you anywhere. That’s why I’m here now.”
    “Me, too,” said Marc, thinking it out clearly for the first
time. “I’ve been feeling like a fool, to run away. But there was
no way I would’ve ever been nothing but miserable, in the
place I was. So I might as well go on.”
    “Do you know where you’re going?” said old Bart sharply.
    “Yeah, that train on the next to the last track. She’s not
getting up a head of steam yet.”
    “That wasn’t what I meant,” he wheezed, slowing down a
trifle.
    “Don’t slow up now.”
    “So, where?”
    “I got some business I got to take care of, then I’m
heading…somewhere. France, maybe—why do I got to
know?”
    Old Bart was silent as they picked an unsteady path across
the tracks. They went up to the side of the train and were
blasted out of their heels by a ferocious whistle of steam.
Sounds carried double through the wet air.
    “Hurry up, third boxcar,” said Marc, running ahead. He
481

pulled open the door and looked inside — there was barely
room for a man to stand up next to stacks on stacks of wooden
crates. But if he shifted them around—
   He restacked five of them to make a cozy lie-down spot, a
hard bed on top of a three-high pile of crates. They were heavy
as bricks — good. Then the load wouldn’t shift suddenly and
crush the old man.
   The train jerked to motion as Old Bart climbed heavily up
the stairs. Marc pushed him from behind; getting him squeezed
into the spot.
   “You’ll be fine and I’ll come get you when we stop,” he
said, jumping back on the ladder and easing the door shut.
   “Don’t get thrown off, I’m not done with you yet,” said
Bart, waving him away.
   Marc jumped down, running alongside. It wasn’t moving so
fast yet that he couldn’t outpace it. He ran on up to the first
boxcar and swung up on the ladder—there was a little rail and a
standing spot in front.
   He climbed the ladder and poked his head up on top, wind
whipping his muffler’s ends out like a flag.
   “Don’t peep out like a tortoise, come on up,” said the skinny
man. He had a heavy coat buttoned up to his chin and a
482

stocking cap pulled down low over his eyebrows. His seat was
a little platform attached to the front of the car — for operating
the brake wheel, he’d need to stand up on top.
    They were speeding up and the wind whipped balls of ice in
Marc’s face. He crawled past the brakeman and took up a
precarious seat on the very top of the car, just out of reach of a
grabbing arm. Being thrown off a train once was enough.
    “You were owing me some money.”
    “Here’s a dime now, and you can take the rest off the old
man when we stop,” said Marc. “It ain’t that I ain’t trusting
you, but I already got thrown off once after paying my way.”
    “So you ain’t trusting me.”
    “You got an honest face,” said Marc.
    Lying, but what did it matter? He asked, “How long you
been working as a brakeman?”
    “Two years, what’s it to you? I started as a switchman in
the yards, lost these—“ he held up a left hand with three fingers
missing. Marc winced at the sight.
    “I got off easy. Most men work at it long enough lose a
forearm or two. You stand between the cars as they come
together, and time it right to drop the pin into the two sockets
when they match up, just before the cars crash – and you got be
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ready to move quick, if they ain’t lined up.”
    “How kin you grip the wheel with only the two fingers?”
    “Right arm’s strong enough to make up for it. Shake?” He
held out a right hand for a handshake.
    “No thanks,” said Marc, scooting back a trifle.
    “Damn, you’re the most suspicionist kid I ever met.
Anyways, they going to go to air brakes in a year and I’ll be
outen a job.”
    “Will you move up to engineer?”
    “Now, that’s an idea. ‘Swhat I’m hoping for. Likely I’ll be
back into shoveling coal, story of my life.”
    “Bet‘cha get to go a lot a places, though. Ever been to
Floridy?”
    “Boy, I never been nowhere ‘cept this route. Knoxville’s
farthest east I ever been.”
    “Where’s that?”
    “Town in the mountains.”
    “Do you go there this route?” said Marc. He was pushing
for a way to keep this conversation going. As long as the man
was talking, he wasn’t trying to throw him off the train.
    “Yup. Coal goes north, goods south. Twice a week till I
die,” he said, trying to light a cigar in the howling wind.
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    “Is this as fast as it gets? It’s pretty fast, ain’t it?”
    “Reckon we’re going about twenty miles an hour. We’ll go
up to twenty five on the downslope.”
    “Can you stop ‘er on a downslope?”
    “If you’re lucky.”
    “So what’d you do, going twenty-five miles per hour on a
downhill and suddenly you see a train coming up, head on?
Me, I’d be off’a here.”
    “You’ll never make a railroad man, then. There ain’t never
been a railroader what was sech a coward. I’ve done it, too —
held my post in a howling snowstorm, screeching on brakes till
they were shined slick from the fric-tin. Train slowed down a
trifle — and still bearing down on a mountain of fallen rock
like a crashed brick building. I pulled my eyes down and
threw ever inch of twenty-years muscle on the wheel. Then I
jumped cross couplings, two cars down and tightened the next
one. And the next — we stopped with barely two inches to go.”
    Marc was quiet, hearing an orchestra play the scene in his
head. The ice hitting his face — the wind — the rising fear and
the brakes worn thin — a lone voice rose from the depths and…
    “Have a good evening,” said the brakeman, climbing across
cars onto the top of the pile of coal in the tender.
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   “Hey! Where are you going?”
   “In out of the snow, fool. I said you could ride on top, not
that I was.”
   “But it’s cold up here!”
   “Good thing you got a coat,” said the brakeman, vanishing
over the pile of coal and into the engine.
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Chapter 47

    There were several stops to take on water, but Marc kept
well out of sight on the back rail of a car near the end of the
train.
    It was a long train — nearly thirty boxcars, ten flatcars
loaded with lumber, and a caboose. While the train was
moving, there was no way he could get into the boxcar that old
Bart was in — the door was in the middle of the car and had
nothing to hang onto but the handle. If he’d jumped down and
couldn’t open the door, there’d be no way to climb back up.
    He’d amused himself for a while by walking the tops and
practicing a well-timed jump from car to car. When he was
jumping toward the end of the train, he could do it almost
without a crouch on the landing. Forward was harder. Most
times he sprawled on the landing and smashed his knee on the
top.
    Eventually he got bored and climbed the various ladders and
tried all the doors he could reach.
    After the last stop he sat down on the sheltered back end of a
car and tried to sleep. There wasn’t much wind back there, but
even with legs drawn up under the coat and hands tucked into
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sleeves, it was too cold.
    He could hum under his breath and dream a symphony…but
that escape failed without the near hope of putting it to paper.
The papers in his jacket were ruined and there wouldn’t be a
chance to buy more for a long, long time.
    What was the point, anyway? He could write down music
‘till he died and never get a chance of hearing any of it.
    Dreaming fitfully, time passed slow and painful. When the
train stopped again and he could see it was a real city all
around, he got off and ran up to the third boxcar.
    “Get on out, Mr. Barton. We’re there!”
    “Whu—“
    He had to climb up and shake the man by his shoulder
before he came full awake.
    “Just fell asleep,” old Bart grumped. He seemed so stiff and
slow he couldn’t get his legs over the side to stand up.
    “You look like you’re sleeping pretty sound, to me,” said
Marc, keeping an eye over his shoulder for a railroader.
    “What time do you suppose it is?” said old Bart.
    “Time for you to be moving, that’s what time. If we stay
here too long we’ll be jumping off it while it’s moving.”
    “Give me a minute,” old Bart said, moving each foot one
488

inch toward the edge.
    Marc groaned and sat down, trying to vanish in the shadow.
It was a busy yard, filled with the shapes of trains. Every
direction he looked there were streetlights in the distance.
    “Blame it! I believe we’re smack in the middle of a town,”
he said. “How’re we going to build a fire here?”
    “No need,” said old Bart. After five minutes of agony he’d
finally managed to get his legs over the side.
    Marc stood up and let him use his shoulder as a crutch to get
down to the floor of the car.
    “You don’t expect to find a charitable house here, at this
hour?” Marc asked.
    “I though you didn’t know what time it was.”
    “I know it’s after two a.m., because the man said it was a
good seven hours.”
    Old Bart had to sit down to negotiate the stairs down out of
the car. At long last he started a slow hobble away.
    “You! What you doing there?” growled a voice. Marc
looked back and saw a man taller than elephants, bearing down
on them with a rough stick in his hand. He didn’t wear a
uniform, but had a dull black coat that vanished into every
shadow, leaving a disembodied face under a puffy blue cap.
489

    “Nothing, Sir, just going on through,” he said politely.
Trying to nudge old Bart along, he was stuck waiting for the
man to walk up when he really wanted to run away.
    “This is railroad property, and you got no business on it.
Move on faster or I’ll take the stick to you,” the man said.
    Up close he could see the bull’s face light up in the
occasional glare of a watchman’s lantern hanging on top of the
train. The face was as blank as a brass gong; the mouth small
and square and only visible when he spoke. It vanished as he
came up close, prodding them along with the stick.
    “He’s going fast as he can,” said Marc. His voice had an
edge he hadn’t intended.
    “I’ll see if he can’t go faster, then,” said the bull. Without
warning, he whacked them both across the back—and kept on
hitting.
    “See here,” said Marc, dodging out of reach. “He’s an old
man! You can’t be hitting him for nothing!”
    Swinging a feint at Marc that caused him to jump back, the
bull hit Old Bart again — a sharp crack that echoed against the
warehouse walls.
    “If it’s money you want—“ said Old Bart.
    The man stepped closer and moved his arm to swing again.
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    Jumping up to the bull and stepping on his toes, Marc tipped
off his cap and kicked it backward as it fell to the ground.
    “Pick on someone who’ll fight back,” he said, jumping away
toward the hat.
    “What, a little piss ant? Gimme that!”
    The bull moved toward him now, giving Bart a chance to
resume his slow hobble.
    “Come fight me for it,” said Marc, picking it up and backing
another five steps.
    “You—“ the bull turned, seeing old Bart getting away.
    Marc jumped up behind him and thumped him on the back.
    Whoa! The bull could move fast! He sprinted after Marc,
making him run hard to keep out of reach. The ground was
littered with boxes, rocks and debris — in the dark it was hard
to keep from tripping.
    Peeping over his shoulder, he saw the bull stopping and
turning back toward old Bart. Bart was just visible in the
reflection of a lighted-up window.
    “Guess I’d better call Mr. Johnson — with his shotgun,”
said the bull. He was raising a whistle to his lips.
    Marc didn’t think — he ran back, grabbed the whistle and
tried to jerk it away. It was tied around the bull’s neck with a
491

piece of string — startled, he kept tugging at it. Too long —
long enough to feel his arm clenched in an iron vise.
   A beefy fist hit him upside the head so hard his ears rang.
He tried to duck, twisting around in the grip that he couldn’t
break. Another hit coming — he dodged sideways and took it
on the ear.
   He’d have to get loose or be beat to a pulp. Or—
   Grabbing the whistle again, he twisted the string around his
fingers tight. The string dug into a hairy neck and disappeared.
A gurgle—
   The string broke.
   Marc kicked hard, getting loose and dropping the whistle on
the ground. He jumped ten feet, screaming at his feet not to
run.
   “What’s going on, Bub?” called a lazy voice. A man was
walking toward them — he had a rifle cocked over his
shoulder.
   “Couple bums—“
   Marc hollered louder, running toward the man with the gun.
“He’s trying to kill an old man, that’s what! If I hadn’t stopped
him he’d a beat a sick old man right to death — right here!”
   The bull took off running toward him. The man with the
492

gun was looking all around, confused. It wasn’t worth the
chance to stay and argue.
    Marc ran as fast as he could, heading at right angles from
where Old Bart had gone.
    “Git him, Johnson — he’s getting away with the payroll!”
shouted the bull.
    Marc shifted his route to head directly at an engine that was
building up a head of steam. Surely the man wouldn’t shoot at
his own folk—
    Bang! It sounded like a cannon — he heard the buckshot hit
the engine as he jumped through a coupling and cut to the left.
    “Hey, what you shooting at! You crazy?” rang out a chorus
of voices.
    Marc didn’t slow up until he dodged through the last jumble
of abandoned cars. He sprinted across a street and turned to the
right, to circle around where Old Bart would have come out. It
was darker out there — streetlights were few and far between in
this part of town and buildings blocked the light everywhere.
Hugging the shadows, he was almost invisible.
    “Mr. Barton!” he called, trying to yell softly.
    No answer. He paced up and down, covering the side of the
street three times and not seeing the slightest movement.
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    He was just considering going back out into the open when a
movement caught his eye, two blocks ahead. He ran up.
    “Whyn’cha wait for me?” he yelled, catching up.
    “I put you in enough danger,” said old Bart, low. “I figured
it was time to let you get back on your road. Whatever that is.”
    “My road — is getting you down to your brother,” said
Marc, exasperated. “Unless I have to carry you,” he added.
    Bart was moving slower than ever and pausing every six
steps to take a few shallow breaths.
    “You’re clearly heading somewhere…”
    “Told you,” said Marc, looking around for a sign of the city
ending. He didn’t have a clue which way to go. “I got business
to take care of, then I’m leaving.”
    “And it ain’t a pleasant business,” said Old Bart.
    “No, it ain’t. Confound it, I don’t know where to go!”
    “So why don’t you tell me?”
    “All right! And you’ll be sorry you asked. It’s mur—“
    “Where might you gentlemen be headed?” said a tall voice.
They both squinted over their shoulders and saw a policeman
walking up from a side street.
    Seeing Old Bart’s lips open, Marc spoke faster. “My Uncle
Joe’s. Can you tell us where’s Third Street?”
494

     “Eight blocks that way,” said the policeman, waving to the
left of where they’d been heading. “Strangers here, then? Did
you just get off the train?”
     “No, Sir, it was a whiles back. Old man here wasn’t feeling
too good, so we had a sit down and a bite to eat on the way.
Then we got lost — we been walking for two hours.”
     “Just keep going that way, you’ll be there in a minute,” said
the policeman, looking stern. “Is he expecting you?”
     “He will be when we get there,” said Marc, grinning.
     Suppressing a snort — sounded like a chuckle bent out of
shape — the man waved them on.
     When he was out of earshot, Marc muttered, “If he sees us
again we’re in trouble. We got two choices. Either we can wait
till he’s out of sight and turn around and walk the opposite
direction, or we can hole up in one of them old warehouses
until morning.
     “It’s too cold.”
     “I don’t believe it is. Not if we find a corner…here, try this
one.”
     This one was not an old warehouse at all, but a fairly well
kept brick building on the corner—looked like offices of some
sort. The windowsill was easy to reach from street level, so
495

Marc just pushed up the window on tiptoes until he could get
ten fingers into the crack. He got it high enough open to jump
up and wriggle inside.
   “I am not a housebreaker!” hissed Old Bart, peering in the
window.
   “Yoo-hoo!” said Marc, stumbling around in the dark.
“Stove’s still warm. If I could only find a—“
   His fingers encountered a shelf, head-high behind the heater.
A round tin can held matches, with a striker plate on the
bottom. Hands shaking from excitement, he lit one and looked
around.
   It appeared to be a business office. Desks and typewriters
stood at one end; Heavy books lined shelves on the wall. He
located the door and opened it wide, waving at old Bart.
   “Come on in, Sir,” he urged.
   Trying to object, Bart could only wheeze. It seemed to take
the last bit of energy he had to come in and sink to the floor in
front of the heater.
   “It’s a dark enough night that I think a little fire might pass,”
said Marc. “Worst thing that’ll happen is they put us in jail —
and that’s surely a warmer place than here.”
   He stacked up a minute pile of kindling and put on a
496

pyramid of coal. Just enough to take the chill off—
    He started to speak to Bart and realized the old man was
already asleep.
497

Chapter 48

    Waking up cold and sore — no new experience — Marc
jerked to his feet and looked anxiously at the windows. It was
broad daylight — and there was a rattling at the door.
    He’d left the door unlocked — maybe that was the problem.
    “Cuss it all,” came a low muttering. The door started to
swing open.
    “Wake up!” Marc hissed, kicking Old Bart in the ribs. But
the man was already awake and staring at the door — he began
the laborious process of getting to his feet.
    At the back of the room there were two large desks with
matching nameplates — on the left Mercer and the right, Kahn.
Left or right, thought Marc, watching closely as a man stepped
in the door. He was carrying a heavy bag and a stack of book
and he turned instinctively to the right.
    “What’re you—thieves! Police—“
    “Beg pardon, Sir,” Marc said loudly, drowning out the
furious sputter. “We’re not. Mr. Mercer sends his respects and
said would you kindly show us out and make sure we haven’t
touched anything, other than the stove.”
    “Wha—?” said the man, dropping half of the books on the
498

floor and stopping, mouth hanging open. He began to slowly
back toward the door, blocking the opening.
   “As you can see there’s only a handful of coal touched and
everything’s the same as you left it. Give our regards to Mr.
Mercer and thank him agin for us, will you? He was a real
gen’lman to let us in, and we surely ‘preciate it. Come on,
Grandpa,” he said to old Bart, taking him by the elbow and
propelling him toward the door.
   “He let you in?” said the man, moving back out of the
building. He looked like he was about ready to run.
   Old Bart spoke up unexpectedly. “Surely he did, the
kindliest gent I ever did have the honor to shake the hand of. It
was a pure act of charity, too, because I don’t think we would
have lived the night otherwise.”
   The die-away wheeze of his voice gave the speech a more
honest accent than Marc’s had. The man touched his cap and
nodded.
   “Best wishes, Sir,’ said Marc, itching to run. They were on
the sidewalk now and moving gratefully away.
   He didn’t dare to glance back.
   Two blocks down the road, Old Bart said, “You are about
the worst liar I ever heard.”
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    “I thought I was a purty good liar.”
    “That’s what I mean. What would you have done if he’d
said Mr. Mercer was out of town?”
    “Run like hell? No, I guess I could have described the man
who let us in and hope it sounded like someone else he knew.”
    “And what if he’d said he was Mr. Mercer?”
    “Same thing.” Marc watched old Bart as he stopped for
breath, leaning on the brick ledge around a pharmacy. The
stores weren’t open yet but there was a steady stream of
shopkeepers, clerks and typewriters filling the sidewalks. Most
were headed the same way that they were.
    “Do you want to sit down and let me find a doctor?” asked
Marc. “Town this size, ought to have one who’d see you.”
    “I don’t need a doctor! Don’t you realize we’re only forty
miles from my brother’s house?”
    “Sit down, then and let me find a coffee shop.”
    “Not letting you out of my sight. You’ll have me wrapped
up and stowed in a hospital, and you on your merry way south.”
    “Never mind!” Marc stormed away and walked up to
intercept the nearest of the fine-dressed men of business that
were walking purposefully by.
    “Sir, can you—“
500

   “Here,” said the man, shoving a nickel in his hand and
pushing on past him.
   “What was that all about?” he asked Bart. He flipped the
nickel in the air and grinned. “I was just going to ask him the
way to a restaurant.”
   “Try this shopkeeper,” said Bart, pointing to a man opening
up the pharmacy. Suddenly getting his legs moving again, he
walked over himself and spoke to the man’s back.
   “Good morning, Sir. Can you tell us the way to a little
restaurant that serves a bit of breakfast, hereabouts?”
   “There’s one over on Sixth Street. I never go there myself,”
the man said doubtfully.
   “Would that be to the right here?”
   “Turn right at the next street and go two blocks over.”
   “There!” said Bart, smiling smugly as they walked away.
   “So what? You didn’t get a nickel.”

   *

   They found it easily. The man behind the counter waved at
them to choose their own table, so they sat down and looked at
the menu, hand-printed on a card.
501

    “Toast and butter, five cents? How much money you got,
Mr. Barton?”
    “Go ahead and get yourself an egg; I have enough,” said old
Bart.
    “No, really—how much do you have? I have five dollars
and five cents.”
    Old Bart slowly put a hand in his pocket and spread change
out on the table. “A dollar and fourteen cents,” he said sadly.
    “Drink a cup of coffee and let me go for a walk,” said Marc,
jumping up. Ignoring Old Bart’s protests, he went up to the
counterman and got directions to the railroad terminal.
    Only sixteen blocks. He ran down the streets until his legs
got shaky — how long had it been since he’d eaten, anyway?
He hated the weak feeling, hated it even more than he hated the
eternal cold, the interrupted sleep and the wary, suspicious
stares of strangers. Shaking off the anger that the hate evoked,
he settled to a fast, mile-eating walk.
    The passenger terminal was grand, like a full orchestral
symphony. Vaulted ceilings held enough empty space for a two
hundred man chorus and a hovering of angels; the echo space
above gave the smallest sound a clatter. Wishing he could get
a piano in here to play to the echoes, Marc crept up to the ticket
502

window and tried to pretend he wasn’t covered with grime.
    Standing still, the itching of the lice was almost
unendurable. Couldn’t scratch here — it was like a church.
    “How much would it cost for a one-way ticket to Bardstown,
please sir?”
    The ticket clerk stared him down, frowning. He finally
seemed to make up his mind — shuffling close-printed forms,
he ran a neatly clipped finger down a row of numbers.
    “Coach?” he asked.
    “Yes,” said Marc.
    “Three ten.”
    Six twenty for two, then. And they had six fourteen if old
Bart had just spend a nickel for coffee. Six cents short…might
as well eat breakfast.
    He started to turn away, then jerked back, displacing the
man about to move into his place. The man moved back and
sniffed the air..
    “What time?” asked Marc.
    “That one boards at ten-fifteen. It stops here on the route
from Cincinnati to Memphis. And there’s a local at eleven
thirty; it’s three oh-five.”
    “Three oh-five?”
503

    “Three dollars and five cents, Sir,” repeated the clerk.
    “Yo-ho!” said Marc, turning on his heel and running back
out. Spinning around so fast made him dizzy — he slowed to a
fast walk again and waited for his head to settle down.
    At he speed old Bart was making, it’d probably take him
four hours to get back here—
    So what? He’d carry the old man if that’s what it took.
    He wheeled back into the restaurant and found old Bart still
in place — that was about to end, he thought, hiding a mental
grin.
    “Let’s hoof it, Sir,” he said, shifting foot-to-foot at the end
of the table.
    “Mighty polite all of a sudden?” said Bart. “What’s the
rush?”
    “Places to go,” said Marc, putting out a hand to encourage
him up.
    “Not until you tell me where we’re going. If you’re still
thinking doctor—“
    “You know we can’t afford a doctor. Come on.”
    “Where?” said Bart, sitting solid.
    “To the train station, okay? I got us a train to your
Bardstown — it leaves at eleven thirty. We want to go buy our
504

tickets pretty quick, just in case.”
    “I see no call to be spending money on tickets. We’ve been
getting along fine so far—“
    “Fine? I spent the night freezing on top a boxcar and
‘specting ever minute to be tossed off! You might have been
fine!”
    “I’m sorry about that, but I don’t see how we can afford it.”
    “You’ve a dollar and ten cents, don’t you? And I’ve five—
if I can spend five, I reckon you can let go of only one.”
    Old Bart stared up at him, frowning. Put that way, it was
hard to refuse.
    “You get anything to eat?” he asked, standing up painfully
and following Marc out onto the sidewalk.
    “No; you?”
    “The waitress slipped me a biscuit when the owner wasn’t
looking. She said she was getting tired of the way I kept
staring sadly at other people’s plates.”
    “Here’s a bakery,” said Marc, looking in the window. Racks
on racks of donuts and buns, flaking off chunks of sugar to litter
the pans. He could smell them even with the door closed.
    “Hey, give me that four cents, will you?” he said.
    Old Bart raised his eyebrows and said nothing, handing over
505

the change. When Marc started to walk in, he said, “You know,
don’t you, that’s not enough—“
    “Yep,” said Marc, stepping inside all the same. The bell
made a cheery jingle and the baker appeared from the back. He
was resplendent in a floury white apron to his knees.
    The smell was enough to knock you down. Not even
needing to act like he was starved, Marc held out the four cents
and took a deep breath. If he couldn’t eat it, maybe he could
absorb the smell through his lungs.
    “Do you have any day old bread you can spare, for four
cents? Please, anything you’re going to throw away?”
    The man wouldn’t have been a good baker if he hadn’t liked
to see people’s bellies full. He dropped the four cents in the
cashbox and filled up a paper bag with things from under the
counter. He folded the top over and handed it to Marc,
nodding.
    Feeling like a heel for looking — but he’d been fooled too
many times — Marc took a quick glance. The bag held food,
not rocks like he’d been expecting.
    He thanked the man and ran out, tripping over the doorsill
and falling heavy on a hip and elbow. He kept the bag up off
the ground, though.
506

    “Did you fall out or did someone kick you out?” asked Bart,
smiling.
    “Look at this — doughnuts! Two of ‘em. And about four
rolls underneath — how’s that for service? Here!”
    Marc shoved a doughnut in his mouth whole and handed the
bag over.
    “Little hard, isn’t it?” said Old Bart, eating the second one
delicately and wiping his fingers on a handkerchief.
    “I wouldn’t care if it was crunchy,” said Marc, starting on
the rolls. They were a little crunchy…but he was past noticing.
507

Chapter 49

    The train labored up the slopes of an uneven land, a world of
hills and forest stumps over tired, muddy snowfields. Spring
hadn’t touched the hills but its promise trickled down every
narrow valley…rivulets of snowmelt joining into short-lived
streams and vanishing away into the ground again at the bottom
of the hills.
    The roads were a muddy mess; when they passed a slow-
plodding wagon, the horse’s sides were flecked with clay and
their hooves splayed out with the weight of the soil they
carried.
    The train wasn’t crowded but all of the other passengers
seemed to crowd to the seats at the very farthest end from
where they sat.
    “I didn’t realize you smelled that bad,” Marc said.
    Squinting out the window, Old Bart ignored him. “Nice
country, this is. I’ve never been so far south since I came to
America.”
    “It looks cold,” grumped Marc, looking at his fingers. They
were warming up, thanks to a red-hot coal heater in the middle
of the car. At the farthest front seat from the heater, they were
508

still sweating under their coats.
    Finally his fingers were warm enough they didn’t feel stiff at
all…just restless. He drummed them on the slick leather seat
and longed to hear music.
    “So close,” Old Bart said, wrinkling his forehead.
    “Worried?”
    “I should have written him that I was coming,” he said,
voice dying away as he gazed out the window. “Or wired him,
while he had the chance to say no.”
    “He’s your brother, he wasn’t going to say no,” said Marc.
    “You’re awfully optimistic all of a sudden.”
    “That’s because I’m lying. It’s the sort of lie people always
say. Still…even if he don’t want you, I reckon he’ll at least put
you up till you get a job.”
    “Easy enough to say about a youngster like you, but we’re
talking about putting up an old, tired man. It’s not many folk
would do it.”
    “Quit your worrying. You’ve got this far.”
    “I wouldn’t have made it without your help,” Old Bart said,
still staring at the aged crust of snow on a tired landscape.
    “And I’m not leaving you till you get there. Go to sleep,”
Marc said, slumping down in his chair and propping up his
509

knees on the rail ahead. Warm and fed, with moving pictures
out the window and an undercurrent rhythm of wheels…it made
up a traveling music that would never be written on paper.
   He made it up in his head anyway.

   *

    “Is this thing going to stop at every one-hoss town?” he
griped, two hours later. It was mid-afternoon and the faint,
wheezy sun of morning had given way to a gray-fleece blanket
of rolling clouds.
    “I believe we’re there,” said old Bart, struggling to his feet.
Marc jumped up, ready to run, but he forced his steps to an
interminable slow hobble behind his shuffling companion. The
conductor stood at the door, looking at his watch.
    “Let’s go in the station and find us a washroom,” said old
Bart, trying to speak easily.
    Marc could see the nervous worry written on the old man's
face, so he reined in his own anxiety and filled up the slow
minutes by looking around at the people. A mother in sooty
black with a traveling cloak pulled close to her throat, leading
along a trio of ducklings in graduated sizes. Their legs stuck
510

out from under calf-length skirts like long-legged heron’s legs.
A salesman in brown tweed; his eternally tired arms lugging a
heavy sample case. A pair of well-dressed lawyers, moving far
away from the touch of Marc's sooty coat but not deigning to
look over to acknowledge his presence.
    The little washroom had a low table with a gold-rimmed
mirror hung up above it. Marc poured a few cups of water into
the enameled basin and dunked his face in, then wiped it
vigorously on the roller towel. The water turned pretty black
— he left it for old Bart and fidgeted around the room, trying
not to look in the mirror. One glance had shown that his hair
was shiny with grease and curled up worse than ever on top.
    “Where I’m going, it won’t matter,” he muttered.
    “And where would that be?” said old Bart, coming out of the
door to the convenience.
    “Hell or jail, whichever comes first.”
    “Should be a special place reserved for a boy who can’t even
pour out his slop water,” griped the old man, dumping it into
the bucket with a shaking hand and trying to pour from the
pitcher.
    “Let me do that, you’re getting weaker by the minute,” said
Marc, taking it from him.
511

    The old man had poured two cupfuls out on the floor while
he was trying to pick up the bucket.
    Old Bart pulled out a straight razor and strop from the deep
pockets of his long overcoat.
    “What you doing that for?” said Marc, aggravated. “You
ain’t shaving off your beard now?”
    “Just a trimming back,” said old Bart, voice dying away. He
scraped slowly, taking a minute at each stroke to still a shaking
hand. He was edging the beard’s boundary back to a neat
circle. He trimmed the length a little, too, using the blade like a
saw.
    Washing his face carefully, cleaning under his nails with the
tip of a pocketknife—he still wasn’t done when Marc was
bouncing off the walls with impatience.
    “So let’s go!”
    “I’m — I’m weak. From all that standing,” said Bart,
sounding like it. “Let me just sit out here a bare minute.”
    Marc followed him out to the waiting room, where Bart sank
into a hard wooden seat and leaned back, closing his eyes.
    “You’re not still worried, are you? Do you need me to go
see if they’ll have you?”
    “I’ll be there…” echoed Bart, not opening his eyes.
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    Fifteen minutes passed while Marc read every wanted poster
and train schedule in the building. When he came back, old
Bart was so still he looked like he hadn’t moved.
    “If you want’ta rest up, kin I take a walk? I’ll be back in a
hour.”
    Bart nodded like it hurt to move his head.
    Free at last, Marc walked out so fast that it felt as good as
running. The little town was festive with a Saturday afternoon
cheer. Groups of schoolboys trooped by, chewing gum and
talking of mischief. Marc walked slowly down the board and
brick sidewalks, looking in each store window.
    A furniture store had a few upright pianos near the front. He
wandered in, nodding politely to the proprietor.
    “What did you wish?” asked the man, a stout German fellow
with a brown beard halfway down his coat front.
    “May I try out the pianos?” asked Marc.
    “Are you planning to buy one?”
    “No, but my father will be along in a minute, and he might.”
    “Then he can try them,” said the man, nudging him out the
door.
    “Guess I’ll find the railroad yards,” Marc muttered,
hunching his shoulders and heading on down the street. The
513

chill clouds were starting to spit out a thin rain.
514

Chapter 50

    He returned three hours later to find old Bart had moved to
the other side of the room, farther away from the heater.
    “Are you ready yet? It’s probably four o’clock,” said Marc.
    “Four-thirty,” said Old Bart, looking up slowly and making
preparations to move.
    “I made a nickel while you were a-sitting here. Found the
railroad yards and helped a man load a pile of lumber.”
    “You worked two hours for a nickel?”
    “No, I worked two hours to pump the man about the
schedules. There’s a slow freight bound for Nashville, leaves
out of here seven o’clock every weekday. There’s another
leaves at two-fifteen, but it’s hauling whiskey and they keep it
too well guarded for a tramp to hop on. And sometimes there’s
an all-nighter what hauls reefers down to Birmingham; it
mostly leaves out on Sundays and Tuesdays…what’s the
matter?”
    Old Bart was hobbling slowly toward the door, barely
looking behind even to grunt. He didn’t answer.
    Marc stalked out behind him, hoping the old man knew
where he was going. He walked straight down the street, turned
515

left and kept on going.
    When they’d gone a half-mile that seemed like ten--at that
speed--Marc ventured a comment again.
    “How far out a’town we going?”
    The houses were farther apart now and most had a barn or
stable out back, so he supposed they were already out of town.
The road had turned to mud long ago, but it was mostly still
frozen and white-edged in the shade, so they kept to the hard-
frozen edges.
    They came to an abandoned wagon that had slid off into a
frozen ditch. As they passed the end of it, old Bart stopped and
turned back. He sat down on the tilted bed and seemed to be
gathering his breath in heavy wheezes.
    “One and a-half mile down the old mill road — that’s this
one…turn at the crossroads, second house you come to.”
    “A mile to go? You reckon they’ll feed us supper?”
    “Maybe.”
    “If I could’ve got done by six-thirty, I could’ve made it back
for the train to Nashville,” said Marc, hopping on a trio of
stumps of graduated sizes.
    “Look…I’d appreciate it if you’d spend the night, at least,”
said old Bart, slumping on his uncomfortable perch.
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    “What for? You’ll be there, you won’t be needing me.”
    “Just the same, just in case…” he tapered off, not looking
up. “You’re worn out, looking after me. Just stay the night if
they’ll have us…and then we’ll — you’ll — go on.”
    “Oh, come on—“
    “Please.”
    Marc paced uneasily; feeling like a trap was about to spring.
“Let’s go, then.”
    “Give me a minute,” old Bart said.
    After a minute that stretched into ten, old Bart stood up
suddenly and trudged off with Marc jumping back and forth
behind him. It was getting darker by the minute. Every step
was uphill or down in a gray, crazy-sloped country. Trees
lined the road; leafless, they looked like a tangle of dead brush
sticking up out of a pocked ghostland.
    It wasn’t really so cold that you’d freeze, staying out on a
night like this. With a shelter from the wind…
    Marc shook the thought off. He’d given a promise to stay,
but he wasn’t going to extend it. As soon as he could say a
good-bye in the morning — with or without breakfast — he
was gone.
    The old man moved steadily this time and Marc was grateful
517

for that. It was still such a slow pace that Marc could walk a
minute, stop two minutes, then walk a minute and still keep an
even pace.
   “You’ll know it by the wagon wheels,” old Bart muttered to
himself, slowing his steps even slower as he turned on the side
road and approached the second house. Eventually he stopped
entirely, mumbling to himself.
   “Look, is that the house?” asked Marc, exasperated.
   “Yes, I suppose so.”
   Old Bart didn’t show any signs of wanting to move further,
so Marc stepped up on the porch, treading as hard as he could
without actually stomping, and looking back at the man.
   “Come away from there—“ Old Bart hissed, waving his
arms frantically — but not before the door opened and a short
woman appeared, framed behind the screen door and backlit
from a cheery lamp inside.
   “Good evening, ma’am,” said Marc. “My friend here is Mr.
Barton, and he’s come to pay you a call.”
   “Mr. Barton?” she said, not opening the screen. Her head
seemed to lean closer, peering out through the gloom.
   Mr. Barton moved slowly to the house, almost shaking in
the pool of cold fear that spread out from his feet. Marc stepped
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back and sat on the porch rail, grinning.
    “Is it John?” she said, voice rising in pitch. “John Barton!
Billy, come here quick — it’s your brother!”
    She flung the door open and scurried down the stairs,
catching Old Bart’s hand in a both of hers and looking like she
wanted to kiss him. The sight made Marc laugh out loud.
    “Bill was looking for — oh, hurry! He’s here at last!”
    She was followed by a man in shape and form identical to
old Bart, just a decade younger and a whole lot sprightlier. He
trotted down the stairs and embraced old Bart around the
shoulders. When he was finished, the woman gave in and held
him in a hug too, then the man took another turn and she wiped
her eyes on her apron.
    “Come on inside! Hain’t you got a bag?” asked the man —
Bill Barton, Marc supposed he was.
    “No, the boy and I were just stopping through. We’ll be
moving on—“
    “Oh!” said the woman, hurt falling out with the word.
“Didn’t you get our letter? We’ve got the extra bedroom all
made up for you and we’d hoped you’d stay a good long time!”
She gave an uneasy glance to Marc as she said this — clearly
the invitation hadn’t extended to a stray cat off the streets.
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    “I just came to see him here,” said Marc. “I’m off in the
morning, but I reckon he’d be proud to stay awhile. He’s just
too big a coward to admit it.”
    Hustling them in the door, the lady stopped back to whisper
a quick word with her husband. Not exactly overhearing, Marc
was quick to speak. “If I could stay the night in the barn
outside, I’d be grateful.”
    Old Bart started to speak but Marc was quicker. “I’ve
picked up a few…vermin on the road; be better off outside.”
    “Let us get you a good meal first, Mr.—?”
    “Jacque—uh—“ Marc stuttered, forgetting his name.
“Jacque LePau.”
    Wrong. Old Bart gave him a quick sideways glare but
turned back with a smile to his brother. He looked a hundred
years younger after their warm greeting, but his legs were still
shaky with uncertainty.
    “Let me show you your room and then I’ll hurry supper —
it’s almost ready, said Mrs. Barton, taking Old Bart’s arm again
and pulling him further inside.
    The little house was brightly lit with fireplace, candles and
lamps; Marc took a quick look around. A trio of easy chairs
draped with knitted doilies, shelves lined with books and bric-a-
520

brac…and no piano.
   He sat down and stared into the fire, wondering if it would
be polite to take off his coat without being invited.

   *

   Hours and hours of chitter-chatter followed a solid meal, but
Marc felt cheated by the chance. He hadn’t been able to eat
three bites before heartburn set in, choking his meal down to an
invalid’s trickle. He left on his plate half a slice of a strange
kind of ham, tough as shoe leather but sugar cured and smoky
brown. He’d left a scoop of shredded potatoes toasted in the
oven and topped with a brown sauce that they called red-eye
gravy. The gravy tasted like grease to him, but he was too
polite to mention it. He forced down a cup of applesauce and
gave up.
   He then sat still and struggled with sleep as the reunited
brothers talked over ancient times. Marc was way past
consciousness when he stood up and staggered to the door,
begging pardon and asking again for permission to sleep in the
cow shed.
   “Oh, Billy, don’t you think—“
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    “Of course. We can make you up a bed on the floor in the
kitchen, it’s the warmest place.”
    “Let me just get…” said the wife, bustling off in search of
bedding. In five minutes she had two old quilts and a ragged-
edged blanket spread on the floor.
    Standing up and stretching had snapped Marc awake, and
when the room was left dark it was hard to stretch out and be
still. He was ready to leave.
    Leaving didn’t hold the excitement of the unknown
anymore. He knew it all — loneliness, boredom, hunger and
cold — but at least it was movement. Loneliness he could
endure better than inaction. He’d be spending a lot of lonely
days on the road once he finished the job – the murder – but
maybe things would be different. He wouldn’t be trying to fit
in a place he didn’t fit anymore.
    He wouldn’t be trying to fit the part of a nephew, a
brother…not even a son. All he had left to keep faith with was
a friendship…if it hadn’t died, too. Maybe he’d never have a
friend again. Maybe he could help Renny rest easier…and
maybe not. Maybe Renny was just dead.
    It was going to be a long night.
522


*

    Awake before daylight, Marc stepped outside to a freezing
cold outhouse. He returned and built up the fire in the stove,
hoping for coffee soon. It was Sunday; finding a freight train
south wasn’t going to be easy this day.
    With plenty of time to study the schedules yesterday, he
knew there was a passenger train that left at seven-thirty-five.
It was hard to steal a ride on a passenger train, but maybe he’d
take a chance this morning.
    Dang! It was cold. By seven-thirty the sun would be out.
He stamped back and forth to get warm and hovered over the
stove until Mr. Barton the younger got up.
    “Thank you,” said the man, noticing that the stove was
burning hot. He lit a lamp and seemed to take a quick glance
around the room, seeming relieved that nothing was disturbed.
    “You’re welcome to stay and come to church with us, young
feller,” he said cordially.
    “No, Sir, I’ve got to get moving on,” said Marc. He was
grateful to be hearing movement in the rest of the house now.
“I’ll just go say good-bye.”
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    He ran down the hall quickly, not waiting for any more
hospitality. Hammering on Old Bart’s door, he waited only a
minute before opening it and poking a head in.
    Bart was still asleep, so he walked up and shook the old
man’s shoulder. Gosh, he looked happy. If he were having a
dream, it was a beauty. Not moving a hair, so deep asleep he
didn’t seem to even need to disturb the world — by breathing—
    Marc backed up so fast he banged the back of his head into
the doorjamb. He turned and ran into young Mr. Barton, just
coming in behind him.
    “What’s wrong with him?” hissed Marc. He tiptoed up
again, followed closely by the young Mr. Barton.
    “He’s…sleeping mighty sound,” said Mr. Barton.
    “Yeah,” said Marc, touching the forehead above the covers.
It was more than cold—it felt like the ice-cold rock of a granite
tombstone.
    “I…came to say good-bye,” he added.
    It was a little late for that. He ran to the kitchen and
snatched up the old, tattered coat and muffler. He ran out the
back door, letting the screen door bang behind him. If he ran
fast enough, he wouldn’t be able to hear the scream when kind
Mrs. Barton walked into the room.
524
525

Chapter 51

   The trip — at a dead run — back to the depot only took
twenty minutes. The Sunday train to Nashville wasn’t even
loading up baggage yet — how was he supposed to kill an hour
and a half without thinking?
   Walking…but he had a queasy stomach and an uneasy,
dizzy feeling in his head. Maybe a walk to the nearest outhouse
would take care of that…
   It didn’t help but the walk did him good. Going with only a
snack of bread for several days, then eating ham, fried potatoes
and a generous scoop of spicy applesauce with brown sugar…
maybe that’s what sent poor old Bart over the edge.
   But he'd sure been happy about it.
   The reminder took the edge off Marc’s uneasiness. That
face had been peaceful…and he hadn’t ought to mar that
expression by feeling sorry.
   All the same, he wanted to be moving — not standing
around waiting for life to pass on by. He took a long walk out
through the country, estimating to kill an hour. When he
returned, the train was still not there. The clock in the depot
said six-thirty.
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   He strolled back down the main street, looking for some
work to do to while away the time. No use, on a Sunday. The
town was asleep and its people were at home. In the second
story above some of the storefronts he could hear the clatter of
breakfast, but mostly, even the dogs were still.
   Finding his aimless feet back at the rail yards, Marc came
awake to the sight of a train heading out…south? The sun was
peeping up—to the left—the train was pointed south! He could
catch it if he ran hard—

   *

    It was a restless ride, but restless suited his spirits.
    He’d almost gotten creamed by the fireman. Catching sight
of Marc hiding between cars, the man had started throwing
chunks of coal back for sport. When the train stopped to take
on water, Marc jumped off and hid in a cedar thicket beside the
tracks. Just before the train started again he snuck back by
hiding on the rods underneath the back of a flatcar.
    Riding the rods was nerve-wracking. Fifteen minutes
deafened by the scream of steel; pelted in the face with dust and
cinders; tensing up every minute for an imaginary loss of
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balance and crash to the rails below –
    He decided that being thrown off was a better option. When
the train slowed down to take a sharp curve, he crouched up
like a frog and launched his body off, landing on his side in
sharp rocks.
    He jumped up and got hold of the ladder on the last car in
the train. He climbed back up to the top and found the fireman
had gone on forward, probably taking him for lost.
    He was perched on the coupler between two boxcars when
the train started squealing to its final stop. The brakeman
jumped the space over his head to spin the cast-iron wheel that
set the brakes. He must have looked down as he jumped--he let
out a loud curse, finding a stowaway there.
    The train was stopped in a railroad station at last. Marc
jumped off and misjudged his landing — he tripped on the end
of a crosstie and hit the dirt with an elbow and hip. He was
surprised to be helped up by a rough hand — and less surprised
when the hand held onto his coat collar, trapping him.
    It would have been easy to slip away and leave his coat
behind, but it was still pretty cold out and the hand didn’t seem
to be inclined to murder.
    The man at the other end of the hand wasn’t one of the train
528

crew. He wore a dusty gray overcoat. He was big and grizzled;
gray whiskers matching his coat. He wore boots that hadn’t
been polished since—since they were a moving part of an off-
white steer.
   “You got a strong stomach, boy?”
   “Yes’sir,” said Marc, trying to read the expression. The
man’s puffy eyes gave nothing away.
   “Good, you’ll need it. I got a little job to do, and you’ll do
fine. Just fine.”
   “What’s the job like?” said Marc, letting himself be hustled
back toward the train shed.
   “There’s a tramp fell off and got run over ‘bout a mile back.
I need to bring back his body for burying; it’s upsetting the
passengers looking over.”
   “What am I here for?” asked Marc.
   “Other end of the handcar,” said the big man, pointing. A
four-man handcar stood on the tracks, ready. It was the sort
that two sets of men rode, bowing to each other in even turns as
they pushed the handles down to propel the car.
   Curious, Marc climbed on. It took all of his muscle and
most of his weight just to start the handle downward, but when
the large man took the other end it went easier. On the
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rebound, if he jumped a little and put all of his weight on it, it
took off easy.
    “Stronger’n you look,” grunted the man.
    Marc took a second look — facing the man, it was hard not
to be staring him in the face — and decided he wasn’t all that
old, just gray before his time. His voice was gruff but not evil
— probably had a wife and ten tow-headed kids back in a shack
outside of downtown.
    “What’s this city called, Sir?”
    “What? You don’t know where you’re headed? Are you a
runaway?”
    “No, I’m heading for Florida, back to my brother’s house.
My Pa died this winter.”
    “Sorry to hear that. This is Nashville, Tennessee. If you
want to get to Florida, I suggest you get a job, work through the
spring, and buy a ticket honest. You’ll be there in three days,
and you’ll be there in one piece.”
    “Can you tell me where to get a job?” asked Marc, thinking
fast. He wasn’t such a fool as to thumb his nose at advice so
kindly meant, even if he had no plans of taking it.
    “Let me think on it…sometimes the railroad’s hiring
loaders. You can check at the lumberyard an’ see if there’s any
530

hauling — kin you drive a team o’ mules?”
    “Sure,” said Marc. He never had, but what the difference?
“And how much would I need to save up, for a trip that far?”
    “I 'spect that’d be in the range of fifty-sixty dollars,” said the
man, looking carefully on one side and next. Since Marc had
his back to the track ahead, he paid no attention to the scenery.
It was as dull and drab as the town before, but the ground was
mostly dry-dead grass, not snow. Snow only clung to the north-
facing slopes.
    It was good to see the ground again.
    “Mr. Hunt usually plants twenty acres of corn and a large
patch of tobacco. You can drive a plow, can’t you? His farm
hand’s done gone west.”
    “No, thanks. I ain’t much for farming,” said Marc.
    “Don’t blame you,” said the man, chuckling. “Never could
stomach it myself.”
    Marc’s own stomach was growling. Maybe if he pretended
to go along with this man, there’d be a supper he could get out
of it.
    “Sure would be great to work on the railroad,” he postulated.
    “Ain’t you tired yet?” said the man. He was dripping sweat
down his forehead.
531

    “Yeah, but what’s that matter?”
    “Reckon you are stronger’n you look. I’ll check at the
office for you, tomorrow.”
    “How come there’s trains running today? Surely they don’t
run ‘em all Sunday.”
    “Nah, there’s the three-thirty from Bowling Green — you
come in on that. It sits idle till five in the morning and then we
loads on as many empties as she’ll pull and send her on down to
Birmingham. There’s a coal train comes through on the way to
—“ he chopped off the monologue, giving Marc a suspicious
stare.
    “Hope you find something for me,” Marc said quickly.
“That’s a lot of money to earn and pay my board too. Is there
cheap places to stay here?”
    “We’ll see,” the man said, shutting down the conversation.
    They sweated in silence. Marc got warm enough to take his
jacket off, timing the action to the turns of the handle. It wasn’t
a rhythm he’d ever want to write into a song, but after a minute
he started whistling in time. It was a dull afternoon. The
lonesome whistle punctuated by the thump of the handle
sounded like a chain gang drilling to Hades.
    “Here we are. No—don’t stop.”
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    As soon as they let up on the handles, the car squealed to a
grinding stop — it took more force to get it started again than it
did to keep going. They eased on up a little farther.
    They climbed down from the handcar, slipping on a patch of
ice beside the grade. The dead man was on his stomach,
looking like a pile of old clothes except for the rusty brown
stain that marked an end to a hard life.
    He was two yards away from the tracks. One leg was cut off
at the ankle, the other just above the knee.
    “Reckon he crawled that far,” said the grizzled fellow,
walking down the tracks. He leaned over and picked up a foot
– still inside its shoe — and a leg, tossing them over toward the
handcart.
    “Why don’t ‘cha just leave ‘em?” asked Marc.
    “See, he was probably riding the rods and fell asleep,” the
trainman said, walking back up the railroad ties and staring
Marc hard in the face. “One second of sleep and you’re dead,
and don’t think you wouldn’t be the next ‘un. You get on and
you can’t get off till the train stops. Or he might'a got hit in the
head by a rock—imagine having your eye ripped out, reaching
up to hold it, and losing your grip.”
    He turned the man over, looking at Marc to see his reaction.
533

   As bloodied and beat-up as the tramp’s face was, it still
looked peacefully asleep. Pale from the bloodloss; the eyes
were closed and the mouth relaxed. It reminded him of old
Bart.
   “Looks like a man in heaven,” said Marc, grinning.
   He got a scowl in return. The railroad man stepped up to the
tramp’s shoulders and got a grip.
   “Pick him up, then. It’s what you’re here for,” he ordered.
   Swallowing hard, Marc put both hands around the blood-
soaked knee and heaved. The load tilted sideways, and the man
hollered at him. “Put your back in it!”
   Growling, Marc moved closer and got one arm around the
legs. He started moving off down the track, lugging the heavy
body in a sideways shuffle. He was determined not to show
any more emotion than annoyance. “Good thing it’s winter.
No maggots,” he remarked.
   That thought set off a lurch in his stomach, but it was bone
empty and didn’t have much to churn around. It settled down
as he kept moving, struggling not to drop the load.
   “Set him down, now.” They’d reached the hand car. Marc
plopped the body down as gently as he could. He couldn’t help
scanning his hands and arms quickly, for blood…but it had
534

been all dried up or frozen. He brushed off a few brown
specks.
    The man picked up an old gray army blanket and spread it
out beside the body. He could’ve brought that with him the
first time, but Marc realized that would have defeated his
purpose — of making Marc sick enough to never think of
hopping on a train again.
    They moved the body onto the blanket. The man ordered,
“Pick up them parts—they can bury him all together.”
    Marc picked up the foot and the leg and tossed them over.
The leg was surprisingly heavy—it would have made a good
meal for a wandering coyote.
    Taking a last look at the calm, sleeping face, he stood back
to let the railroad man wrap the blanket around and then helped
to hoist the body up on the car. Wrapped up, it seemed even
more grisly than it had lying in the streak of bloodstained dirt.
In imagination the gray bundle was coming back to life…
crawling frantically away from the clanging rhythm of the train.
    “Feel better, now?” said the railroad man sarcastically. He’d
seen the horror of imagination in Marc’s face.
    “Just hoping he don’t wake up on the ride back,” said Marc,
leaning on a handle and forcing a smart-aleck smile. He’d had
535

about all he cared to take of this man — of both of them — but
one of the empties on the five a.m. to Birmingham was going to
take care of that problem.
536

   Part 3

Chapter 52

      "If he's really gone, somebody's got to tell Mrs.
Biggs,” said Mark.
      "Father already did. He woke her up last night to
ask if he'd been around."
      "So it's safe to go into the kitchen," said Mark,
looking morosely at the doorway. It probably wasn't
all that safe.
      "Any news?" said Mrs. Biggs, leaning her head
out. She’d heard their voices in the hall.
      "Nope. Don't worry, Ma'am. He's smart -- he'll
get away fine."
      Tears started to form in the corners of her eyes.
      Glaring at his brother, John said, "Don't listen to
him. You know Marco hadn't any money to go
anywhere -- he'll be back in a day."
      Mark was suddenly too angry to be polite. "He
ain't a big enough fool to come back here, and you'd
know it if you'd ever taken the time to talk to him. I'd
537

say he's halfway to New Orleans on a southbound train
by now."
     "With what to pay his ticket?"
     "Well...maybe he just jumped on."
     "It's awful cold out there," said John. "Would you
do it?"
     "No, but I got more experience of cold than he
does. I'll bet you if we ask at the station, after church,
we'll find out something."
     Mrs. Biggs said, "Please, do it, Mark. I can't bear
to think of him running off in this cold and freezing to
death out there…somewhere."
     "I'll ask Father," he said, uneasy in her trust. It
was always possible that Father wouldn't care enough
to spend the time—
     Not possible. Father had just walked in the door,
dressed for Sunday church but wearing a workday
expression of worry.
     "Any news of Marc?" he asked.
     "No. Can we stop by the depot after church and
ask whether he was seen there last night?"
     "You can go now if you want to," said Father.
538

      "Sure will," said Mark, jumping up.
      "There won't be anybody there," said John,
catching Mrs. Biggses eye. She usually hated to see
anybody go without breakfast, but even she had been
nodding okay to this silly notion. "The ticket office
isn't even open until noon."
      "He's right," said Father. "We'll go after church."

      *

     Father went in to talk to the ticket agent, but Mark
jumped down out of the buggy and went around to the
loading dock. John followed after, hissing at him to
come back.
     "Sir!" shouted Mark, walking boldly up to a crowd
of workers. They were operating a big piece of
machinery with a long arm like a funnel. From the
ground it looked like it was tilting a load of coal into
the tender of an oversized engine. "Were any of you
here last night, pretty late? I'm looking for a boy who
was here then."
     "Go in and talk to Henry," said the nearest. He
539

waved at the office door.
     Mark went inside and repeated his question. The
office wasn’t much bigger than a storage shed. It held
only a writing table crowded with bills of lading and
receipts for stores. The man sitting there was red-eyed
and drooping over his desk; he was sorting through
luggage claims and putting an ink-mark check on each
one.
     "Sir, I'm trying to find a boy, might have been
here last night. Can you tell me who might have been
here to see him?"
     "I was here," the man said. "What do you want
with him?"
     "He's missing and I'm thinking he might have got
on a train."
     "Not likely. There was a boy hanging around the
baggage car, last night around eleven while we were
loading up for the New York City sleeper. But he
didn't get on -- I kicked him out of the car myself."
     "What did he look like?" said John.
     "Like you," the porter said, scowling at his face.
"Only a whole lot more darker and 'bout a foot
540

shorter."
     "Are you sure he didn't get on?" asked Mark.
     The man gave him a slow glare, but he didn't quite
meet their eyes.
     "It's just..." Mark looked down and scuffed his toe
in the dirt on the board floor, trying to look
embarrassed. "Our mother's going to be real upset, if
we don't find him. I was wondering if he might have
got back on after you threw him off."
     "If he was that determined, he might have. But I
reckon he would have froze to death halfway down the
line. You ought to ask Halder and Frenchy, the
fireman and head brakeman on the route. They're not
working today but they'll be coming back through
tomorrow night. Come back after ten on Monday."
     "Thank you, Sir," said Mark, not feeling much
relieved.
     "He wouldn't be stupid enough to try to ride
outside, this weather?" asked John as they walked
outside.
     "Stupid? Yes, and mad enough too. You saw the
look on his face when you said it was his fault I almost
541

drowned."
     "What's that?" said Father, walking up behind
them. Both of them jumped guiltily.
     "Nothing, Sir. We found out something--"
     "If you know what made him do this, you tell
me!"
     Mark gulped, scared at the raw display of anger.
It wasn’t normal for Father and it scared him
speechless. He wouldn’t be able to evade the question,
now that he’d been fool enough to blurt out the truth.
But maybe he could think of a quick lie—
     John said roughly, "I accused him of causing
Mark to fall by daring him to skate out on the ice. I
was mad and I hadn't ought'a said it."
     "And we think that's what made him run away,"
finished up Mark, growling at his brother. John always
had to break down and tell the truth, in a pinch. And it
almost never helped.
     "So that’s—" Father looked back and forth, from
one red face to the next. He was under control now,
but it didn’t make Mark any calmer.
     "You haven't let me tell you what I found out,"
542

said Mark, trying to distract the rage before it could
explode. "He might have got on the eleven o'clock to
New York. He was seen hanging around there."
      "He did get on it," said Father. "One of the train
men told his engineer that he threw a kid off at some
little city outside of New York -- Bridgeport. They
figured he must have gotten on here."
      "Then we just go and get him!" said Mark.
      "No, we don't. We haven't a hope of tracking him
down now."
      They were back at the buggy by then.
      "He's gone," muttered Mr. Vincent.
      "Oh, I'm so sorry," whined Mother, with an
insincere sniff. "I do hope it's for the best."
      "It seems that he was angry about something,"
said Father, glaring at the two boys. Mark figured
Father had the rage under control now, so he could quit
worrying about what Father would do and resume
fretting about what he had done.
      Mark took a sideways look at his brother. Hearing
John admit he was wrong…he thought it'd make him
feel better.
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      It didn't.
      Mrs. Biggs was crying into her handkerchief.
544

Chapter 53

       Ace Eagle was mingling with the young ladies at
the church social, trying to sneak a quiet word with the
mayor's curly-haired daughter. She alone knew where
the mayor kept the key to the safe...which might hold
the final clue.
       "Hello, Mr. Vincent," said a faint, high voice at
his elbow.
       Mae Madsen stood there, wearing a pale green
dress that screamed havoc with her white-blonde hair.
Luckily the hair was pulled up in a knot, leaving only a
few curls around her face.
       "Hullo," he said. It had been more than a week
since Marco ran away, but the anger he felt looking at
her face was still fresh. She'd been half of the cause of
it all.
       "Mark...uh," she murmured, tugging his sleeve so
that he couldn't move away. She leaned closer and
looked quickly out of the sides of her eyes. No one
was near. "Why doesn't your brother talk to me
anymore?"
545

     "He's gone," he said, hoping to see her look sorry.
     "He's right over there!" she said indignantly,
waving fingertips at John.
     "Thought you meant Marco."
     "Oh, not him. I was wondering why John
wouldn't talk to me anymore."
     "We thought you were sweet on Marco."
     "Why? Oh, the social! But that was ages ago,
and he was so boring! All he wanted to talk about was
his brother--and anyway, he already had a girl. If I’d
known--"
     "He had – has – a girl?"
     "Yes, some Hattie Little-something from down in
New Orleans. Surely you know about her; he talked
about her all the time."
     "But she--" Mark cut himself off short. He'd been
about to blurt out that she was thirty-five years old.
     Ace Eagle wouldn't contradict a witness and miss
out on information.
     "She didn't sound like a very nice girl to me," said
Mae, jerking her chin. She leaned even closer to
whisper, "He said she was a Creole."
546

      "What's that mean?"
      "I thought it meant...colored," whispered Mae.
      "I dunno. What did you mean, he wanted to talk
about his brother?"
      "That's just what I do mean. It was just, John this
and John that; all about how he wished he could be like
John. Tell me about the bullfight," she said, eyes
intent.
      "Tell you what...uh...do you mean?"
      “When John saved him from the bull, of course!
You were there, weren’t you? He — Marc, I mean --
was crossing a field and you yelled, 'watch out for the
bull' and all a sudden an old, mean bull took off at a
run. And he started running back and the bull was
about to get him when John pulled off his jacket,
leaped the fence and jumped in front, waving his jacket
like a mat-mat-"
      "Matador!" Mark guessed.
      "You were there, weren't you?" she tilted her head
suspiciously.
      "Oh, yeah!" he said, turning on his imagination.
"It was the bravest thing I ever saw a man do. I ran out
547

and helped Marco up -- he'd landed in the biggest cow
patty I ever saw -- and I didn't see what John done then
'cause I was running for my life."
      Mae filled in the ending for him. "He spun
around, graceful and cool as a dancer. The bull went
right under his coat -- he'd pulled it up and the very last
minute -- and the bull turned around and came at him
again. He fought that bull until it was tired and lay
down."
      "What else did he tell you about John?" asked
Mark.
      She frowned prettily. "About him saving the
orphans from a fire when he was ten years old -- Marc
said he heard that story all the way down in New
Orleans. And about how John was the best rider in ten
counties -- he'd won a prize for jumping in every state
fair since forever. And...he said John had scads of girls
chasing after him but he was shy around them since he
had his heart broke by that lady in the city, last
summer. Is that how come he don't ever ask to come
call?"
      "I suppose so. I hadn't thought about it that way.
548

I'll...ask him for you." Mark was aching to get away
and tell all this to John.
       "Don't ask him, silly. Just..."
       "Hint, I mean. I promise. I'll find out without
ever letting on you asked. Like I said, he thinks you
was interested in Marco."
       "Goodness, no! Where did he go, anyway?"
       "I wished I knew."

      *

      It was evening and they were back home before he
could get John alone long enough to tell him. They
went up to John's bedroom, shivering in the cold, and
Mark repeated everything Mae Madsen had said.
      "I wish Father wasn't too cheap to let us light a
fire up here," said John, kicking at the grate on the
fireplace.
      "So what'dya think?" said Mark, turning up the
lamp to get some more light on the mystery.
      "I think...it's mighty strange."
      "Well, I think he sat with her on purpose, to make
549

you jealous, and then he thought better of it and
decided to do you a good turn -- that's what I think.
Maybe Mrs. Biggs worked on him."
     "What'd he make up all those stories for?"
     "To make you sound like a hero, of course. She
was practically ready to marry you after hearing all
that."
     "And I had my heart broken? How's that
supposed to help?"
     "I don't know! But it worked on her -- you should
have seen her. She was talking to me, but she was
looking at you all the time."
     John sat down on the chair, then got up and went
to the window. It was supposed to be shuttered outside
the glass, but he figured it was just as cold closed up as
it was left open. He looked outside and shivered.
     Mark kept on pacing, trying to build up some heat.
     "I guess I'm sorry," John said, sitting back down
and propping his boots up on the bedcovers. He tilted
the chair back, balancing with difficulty.
     "I guess you ought'a be," said Mark. "So the
question is, how do we find him?"
550

     "We're not going to find him."
     "Of course we are. Now...what would Ace...Ace
Something do?"
     "Ace Grace?"
     "Ace Strong." Mark thought hard, calling up all
mystery stories he could think of. "Look for clues, of
course!"
     "Where?" said John, grinning and leaning farther
back in his chair.
     "Right here!" Mark made a move to tilt the chair
farther back and over, but John was quicker. The front
legs hit the floor with a bang.
     "Hope Mother didn't hear that," John muttered,
following his brother out of the room.
     Mark carried the lamp down the hall to Marco's
bedroom and sat it on the top of the bureau. He lit the
one on the lamp table by the bed -- it sputtered and
smelled from the dust collected in the week it hadn't
been used.
     "You're too late," said John. "Looks like they
cleaned up in here...but not too well." He blew a layer
of dust off the bureau.
551

     "Search every nook and cranny. Look under the
floorboards. Look for false backs in the drawers and
false bottoms in the hatboxes."
     "Ace, you've lost your marbles," said John, pulling
out the drawers and sliding each in with a hollow,
empty thump.
     Mark was crawling under the bed. He turned up a
forest of dust balls, a sock, and a book. "A clue!" he
said, taking the book over to the light.
     Riffling through it produced no papers.
     "Theory of harmonics," said John, reading the
spine.
     "It's an excellent clue. It proves that...." Mark
tapered off, unable to think of a good joke.
     "It proves that he was a liar,” said John. “He
claimed he couldn't understand the grammar textbook
because the words were too long. There ain't a word in
here under five syllables."
     "Excellent deduction, Monsieur Dupin. We just
need to look in a city with a five-syllable name," said
Mark, walking on his knees over to the wardrobe.
     It contained two stacks of neatly folded clothes,
552

tied in bundles with string. Mother must have been in a
hurry to remove his memory. There was no point in
going through them -- they were all just Mark's
discards and had clearly been washed and stacked after
the departure.
      Ignoring John's chuckle, he carried the lamp to the
corners and inspected the floorboards for loose nails.
      "We'll go on," he said, giving the room a final
look-around.
      "You forgot to look under the mattress," suggested
John.
      "Too obvious," he said, trying to act casual even
as his heart beat faster. "But if you insist...."
      There was nothing between the mattress and the
bedframe but a trapped moth.
      "Let's go look in the music parlor," he said,
blowing out one lamp and picking up the other.
"Quietly."
      They snuck downstairs, cringing at the creak of
every step. If anyone heard them, they'd have to come
up with a quick story to throw off suspicion. Ace Trick
wouldn’t want anyone interfering with his
553

investigation.
     "Whew! This room hasn't been cleared," muttered
John.
     Books and music paper were still piled in stacks
around on the furniture; there was even a half-full
water glass on top of a chair.
     "Every piece of paper," hissed Mark, trying not to
groan at the sight. Mrs. Biggs box of music papers was
open and spilling out the lid.
     They labored in silence for a while.
     "We could wait and do this in daylight," suggested
John. "Look! Here's writing paper and a pen. No
inkbottle…funny. No, it’s on the piano."
     "Let me see!" said Mark, his head turning over.
Better than he'd hoped for--
     "It's blank."
     "Take this pencil and do a rubbing -- oh, let me,"
he said, seeing his brother's blank stare. He began to
run the side of the pencil lead lightly over the top sheet
of paper.
     "I think this will have to wait for daylight," he
finally admitted. Something was coming through, but
554

it wasn't even hints of words. "Look in the
wastebasket."
     "It's full," said John, bringing it over to the light.
He fished out the first wadded sheet and uncrumpled it.
"Oho! Clever of me to think of that."
     "Hand it over, minion," said Mark, making a grab.
     John clenched the wastebasket between both
knees and began to read.

Dear Miss Hunter,
      I am heartbroken to hear of your misfortune but I
am sure there is no better help I can give you than what
I already have. You have a home with Grand-mère. It
would be of no use for me to come, in exactritude it
would be impossible, for I am embarked on a quest of
justice revenge which has consummed my heart and
soul and indeed, I will not know peace until it is
complete -- no, I will never know peace more. The
agents of human justice will dog my steps forever,
whilst you will know a safe, secure home haven from
the winds of cruel fate
555

     "It ends there," he said, unwadding the next one.
“Little dramatic, ain’t he? Sounds like he’s writing a
play.”
     “Maybe he was just real drunk,” said Mark,
laughing.
     The next paper held only musical notes -- and the
next and the next. Mark waited, barely able to restrain
himself from grabbing at the wastebasket and causing a
struggle.
     “Here’s another!” said John.

Dear Miss Hunter,
     I am sincerely sorry to learn of your misfortune.
If you think it would help to pretend that I am to
blame, I give you leave to name me as the malecrant.
I'm sure that the suspicion will be already in most
persons minds because of the circumstances of your
arrival. It will do me no harm save in memory because
I will be far, far away, running from the consequences
of my actions. You know
556

     "The end," said John, chuckling.
     "Come on, let me see," said Mark, reaching down
to the wastebasket.
     "Oh, go ahead," John said, handing him the next
wadded up paper. The wastebasket was over half full.
     "Music," said Mark.
     "More music," said John, tossing a couple more
sheets. "More -- aha! It's 'dear Cherry' this time."
     "Hurry up!"


     Dear Cherry,
     I trust that you will have the best help and comfort
in your circumstances that I could possibly give. If I
could, I would help you more by letting you assign the
blame to my name, but this must not happen. Maybe
you have not even had this unworthy thought, of
conceiving such a lie, and if so, I apologize to you.
But people being what they are, you know they will be
thinking that it's me. Don't let them say it or even think
it, whatever you do. You must deny it longly and
loudly because I am about to become a criminal of
557

such dastardly descent that you would never wish to be
associated with me, even in memory if I am hanged for
the crime I intent to comit.
     You know what I mean although I daren't write
plain for this letter may be interrecepted read. You
were there when I heard of the murder of my only
friend, and I am determined that the murder must be
avenged.
     It will happen soon but I could not even stop to
see you as you asked, for fear that I will be seen and
associated with the innocent one you will soon come to
bear. Even Grand-mère

     "It stops again!" growled John, turning the paper
back and forth.
     Mark couldn’t take it any longer. He started
pulling out papers and tossing them as quickly as John
was doing. John found the next.

Dear Cherry,
    I cannot come as you asked. Trust me Believe me
when I declare that you will want no association with
558

my name or memory forever more. Grand-mère is your
best help in trouble, tell her the truth and ask if she
might send you to the nuns home for girls. I cannot tell
you plainly what I intent to do but you would
remember our conversation with the wagon driver
outside of town. Please never tell it to a soul because I
am leaving soon to comit the act that was planned in
my heart the day I heard his grisly news. My only
good thoughts go with you,
     Marc Corbeau

      p.s. If you are asked confronted by the agents of
law


      They dug to the bottom, both working together,
and found nothing more.
      "This is impossible!" said John, turning the
wastebasket up and pounding on it. "Something
terrible is about to happen and we haven't a clue what it
is."
      Mark thought differently. He took up the blank
559

writing paper, sat down and dipped the pen in ink.
"Here's what we have," he said, writing a list.
     1. Cherry Hunter, staying with his--
     "Does Grand-merry mean grandmother?" he
asked.
     "Probably," said John.
     "I'll start over," Mark said, pulling out a fresh
sheet.

      1. Cherry Hunter. Lives with Grandmother.
      2. Soon to bear child.

      "Oh, so that's what he meant!" crowed John.

     3. Child is probably not Marco's but people will
think it is.
     4. He is planning to commit murder.

    "Are you sure that's what he means?" asked John.
    "I think so," said Mark, looking back. "How else
do you avenge a murder?"
560

    5. He's expecting to get caught or at least blamed.
    6. She knows who it is. It's happening close to
where she is staying.
    7. And last, he's a terrible speller.

     "Ha ha," said John. "So...is he going to murder
the father of this Cherry's child?"
     "No, weren't you listening? He's going to murder
somebody who murdered a friend of his. He ain't
really interested in her problem at all."
     "Do you suppose he ever sent this letter?"
     "I...dunno. I hope if he did, he took out the word
'murder.' He'll get caught for sure, if someone reads
that. And it makes her an accessory before the fact."
     He took a turn around the room, treading lightly.
"And we've got to stop him."
     John snorted. "That really sounds like one of your
stories."
     "I ain't kidding. Whether or not it was us who
sent him off, it's still our fault. We know what he's
about to do and if we didn't try to stop him...."
     John sat down and stared at the lamp. He sat so
561

still, after a minute Mark stopped his pacing and stared
at his brother's face. He'd never seen his brother do
anything rash or agree to any of his hare-brained
schemes, but John could usually be pulled along by a
sort of brotherly glue, protesting all the way.
       He'd figured it was going to be the same way, this
time.
       "If we wrote a letter..." began John.
       "Who to?"
       The idea died in silence.
       "I have four hundred dollars in the bank, from
selling Dell and Daisy," said John.
       Mark looked at his brother, thinking he'd gone
crazy. What could he buy? A detective?
       "I guess we'll go down there," said John.
       "Now! You're talking! But you're not the brother
I know."
       "You figure out how to find him," said John.
"And we'll go find him and bring him home.
Only...what'll we tell father?"
       "It'll be a long train ride home," said Mark,
ecstatic at the idea. "We'll have plenty of time to think
562

about it."
563

Chapter 54

      "Got the address?" Mark whispered, packing a
second pair of gloves into his coat pocket. It was nine
o'clock on a Saturday night and they were facing a
long, cold walk into town. But if Marco could do it, so
could they.
      "Yes. Did you leave the note?"
      "Two of them. I'll explain on the way," said
Mark. He had a small bag -- only a change of clothes
and two notebooks -- but it was still going to be tricky
leaving the house with it. How would Ace do it?
      Drop the bags out the music parlor window, of
course.
      "Meet me outside by the music parlor," he
whispered to John. He slipped down the back hall and
felt his way into the pitch-black room. Working by
feel, he only stubbed his toe twice on the way in.
      The window made an awful squeal opening up,
but the door was thick and he hoped the sound was
muffled a little by heavy curtains. He'd go out feet
first--
564

      Bang! He'd slammed his head on the heavy wood
that held the glass in place. He fell to the ground,
barely noticing John's poor attempt at concealing
nervous laughter.
      "Be still and listen!" he commanded.
      It was so quiet outside he was scared to move. So
scared...that he had to. Either that or spend his life as a
weaselly coward.
      "Come on!" Mark hissed, stepping quickly away
from the house. In ten paces they were under the trees
-- in twenty, they were hidden from the house. They
could breathe easier -- if they could catch their breath
from the cold in their lungs.
      "I put a note on the breakfast table. It said just
that there was something we had to do and we'd be
gone for a few days and we'd wire him when we could.
Then I wrote another one that said we'd gone to find
Marco; we had plenty of money and we begged pardon
for leaving without permission. Lot of good it'll do."
      "Where'd you put it?"
      "On the key, back of the seven-day clock. He
winds it on Tuesdays."
565

      "Why Tuesdays?"
      "Payday for the house staff, I think. He does all
his hard menial labor on Tuesdays."
      "Mark,” said his older brother, reproof in his tone.
      Mark shrugged, feeling rebellious just to be out
walking in the freezing cold with a train ticket in his
pocket. They were going to New York first, and there
they'd buy a ticket for that Thibodaux place. He’d
gone through Father’s desk to find the address of
Marc’s Grandmother. It would be a starting point.
      Going to New York first would make them harder
to trace than if they'd bought ticket straights through,
even if you could. Lots of times you had to change
lines on a trip that long…or so he’d heard. He’d never
taken a trip that long.
      "What's our story, if someone asks us?" he
wondered out loud.
      "Sick grandmother?" suggested John.
      "The story might get around, and someone would
send Mother a sympathy note."
      “You’re right; she’d be embarrassed out of her
mind.”
566

      "Maybe you're taking me to boarding school."
      "You're too scared to go alone?"
      "Hah. How about...we're both going to school."
      "In March?"
      "Then we're both going to live with Aunt and
Uncle Joe because...because of...the problem,"
suggested Mark, letting his voice die away.
      "What problem?"
      "That's the beauty. Say it in an embarrassed way
-- like the way Aunt Maura talks about Uncle Perry's
gout -- and no one will dare to ask. Or write."
      "Good work, Ace. Make it real, will you, so I
won't forget? It's Aunt and Uncle Henry in
Philadelphia."
      "Perfect," said Mark, trying to make out his
brother’s expression under the shadows of tree limbs.
They reached the road and stepped out cautiously --
easier walking.
      "Let's make some time,” said John, speeding up.
      “What's come over you, all of a sudden? One
minute you're my brother John, and the next minute
you’re offering up your horse money and conspiring
567

about a cover story."
     "I don't know what you're talking about," said
John. He was hunched over against the cold.
     "Why are you doing this?"
     "I just need to, I don't know! It's because...I may
not like him, but he did save my brother's life. I guess
I owe him this."
     "I'd a got out," said Mark. This conversation was
getting way too serious all of a sudden.
     "You weren't even moving. I was scared out of
my skull."
     "I was just saving my strength for a desperate
move."
     "You were climbing up Saint Peter's ladder, ready
to knock on the Pearly Gates."
     "I wasn't even cold yet. I was just getting chilled
up to float on top like an ice cube."
     "You and your brain both. Dang, it's cold out here
and it's a warm night, for January. How'd he stand it?"
     "I hope he did stand it, and we're not out on a wild
goose chase," said Mark gloomily.
     Geese flew north in the springtime...whenever that
568

was
569

Chapter 55

      It was a three-day trip, and even with the sleep
they got on the train, they were dog-tired when they
got into Thibodaux.
      There was a hotel near the station, and it didn’t
take much consideration to decide to spend six dollars
on a night’s sleep and a meal that they could eat with
no need to watch the clock. Having taken coach seats
on the cheapest routes they could find, they didn’t have
the option of dining in a fancy Pullman car or of
sleeping in a berth. They’d slept in their seats and
bought sweet buns and tins of hash from the newsboy.
      At one stop they’d stopped out to an eating house
for a quick lunch, but it was hard to eat “on time” when
you weren’t used to it. Fourteen years of being told not
to bolt your food…and ten minutes trying to overcome
your Mother’s training.
      On the next day, Mark and John hired a wagon out
from Thibodaux. Soon they were grateful they'd taken
the time for a night's sleep and wash-up--the house
they were approaching was stately and grand, putting
570

their own ancient brick box to shame. It stood on a
slight rise with a fifty-yard paved walk up to the steps.
Six tall columns held up a huge front porch; the second
story was as tall as the first with another six columns.
The walls were whitewashed and the decorative
shutters around each of the windows were painted dark
green.
      One-story additions extended the house on each
end, and the tops of these were lined with a white
railing matching the rail around the porch. Chairs and
gliders sat behind the rails, waiting for friendly
company. Ancient oak trees, taller than the immensely
tall house, stood ready to shade it coolly in summer.
      "What do we say?" said John, panicked at the
door.
      Mark shrugged. Seeing his older brother so
spooked was good for his aplomb. He rapped
tentatively.
      It was opened by a tiny, blond-headed boy. "May
I help you?" he said solemnly.
      "Can we see Miss Hunter?" asked Mark, grinning
at the miniature butler.
571

      "This is Mrs. Corbeau's house," he replied. "You
better come see Mama.
      He led them down the hall. Both boys stared on
either side, amazed. The floor was polished hardwood,
so pale it looked like wheat in sunlight. There were
fresh flowers or trailing vines on every elegantly
carved stand.
      "How does she get fresh flowers in March?" John
wondered out loud.
      "From the greenhouse," the little boy answered
simply.
      "Don't tell Mother -- she'll want them," said Mark.
"Is Mrs. Corbeau your Mama?”
      "No, here she is," said the boy, flinging open a
door. It revealed a kitchen so big that it would have
held three of Mrs. Biggs' big oak tables.
      "I beg your pardon?" said a lady.
      On first impression he saw only the white
splendor of an all-enveloping apron -- but above the
canopy was salt and pepper hair pinned back so tightly
that it seemed to pull the woman's face into a mass of
wrinkles.
572

     "I’m Mark Vincent; this is my brother John
Vincent," said Mark quickly, watching her face.
     She didn't seem to recognize the name, so he'd
stick to the story, Version A. "We're friends of Miss
Hunter's family, and they asked if we could stop by and
see if she needed anything, on our way through. We'll
be heading to New Orleans this afternoon; we only had
a few hours to stop off and see her."
     "Miss Hunter? You don't mean little Miss
Cherry?"
     "Yes!" He felt relieved – somebody knew her, at
least.
     "I'm sure she'll be pleased," said the lady, looking
hugely puzzled. "If you'll just wait -- Lee, run fetch
Miss Cherry down to the parlor."
     Wide-eyed, the boy ran off.
     "The sky is falling," muttered Mark.
     The lady led them back down the hall to a
beautifully decorated, small room with clusters of
finely upholstered chairs scattered around. Mother
would have died for a parlor this grand.
     His brother didn't even chuckle -- he was too
573

overawed by the surroundings to react.
     "I'm scared to touch anything," whispered Mark.
     The boy came leading a young lady in. As soon
as she entered, the cook went over to stand protectively
behind her, feet planted wide and wrinkled face
determined not to leave until asked.
     "Why...you look just like..." said the girl, looking
at John. She had red hair pulled back in a knot on the
back of her head. The strands that had escaped were
sweetly curled; her face was gently touched with
freckles and the overall effect was enchanting.
     She shied off a little from their frank stares.
     This was the dear Miss Cherry, thought Mark.
His brain had just gone blank. The cook wasn't going
anywhere…how to get rid of her?
     "Yes, ain't it a coincidence?" said Mark, riffling
through the papers in his pockets. "I've got a letter
from your brother -- he sent us to make sure you're
being treated well and he asked us to see you alone, to
be sure you’re not afraid to tell the truth. Just being
careful, you know," he added, with a confidant's nod to
the cook. “Now that I’ve seen it here, I’m not
574

worried.”
     "Here, look at it," he said, handing the girl the
shortest of Marc's letters -- the only one that was
signed. Ace would have had a secret note prepared to
hand to her, but he hadn't thought that far ahead.
     She read it so slowly that he was thinking she had
time to read it three times, at that. But when she finally
looked up, her face was more confused than ever.
     "So if you please, Ma'am, may we have a moment
of your time alone so we may honestly tell your brother
that we've fulfilled his wishes?" he asked, trying to
wink at her.
     "I suppose...is that all right, Mrs. Sevier?"
     The lady pursed her mouth up primmer, but in a
flash of insight Mark realized she looked more
concerned than severe.
     "Step outside then. Only a minute. Miss Hunter
has to go back to her duties."
     They went out the door and Mark hastened them a
few steps away from the house, where they could
clearly be seen from the windows but couldn't be heard
-- he hoped.
575

      "I don't have a brother," she said, dimpling
slightly.
      "It was a ruse. We're looking for Marco -- he's
our brother. Have you seen him?"
      "Marco?" she said, bewildered.
      "Marc Corbeau, has he written you a letter?"
      She hesitated, biting her lip and glancing at John a
time or two. Finally, Mark elbowed his brother in the
ribs.
      "Please -- it's important that we find him,"
stammered John.
      She turned back to Mark to speak. "He wrote me
not to tell anyone that he was going to do something
bad. I don't know what it was."
      "We know already. And we're going to stop him,"
Mark said with fake confidence. "Did he give you the
name?"
      "What name?"
      "Of the man he was planning to...." He couldn't
say the word and it didn't matter -- her eyes were
blanker than ever. If she didn't already know it, he'd be
a fool to tell her. No way would a girl like this keep a
576

secret like that to herself.
      "Look, he told us that you and he found out
something coming here, in a wagon, about a friend of
his. Who was it?"
      "I don't remember," she said, twisting her hands
together under her apron. "Coming here…there was an
old colored man driving a white horse and he told
us...about a man that was killed. For stepping on
someone's toes at the depot -- is that it?"
      "Do you remember the man's name?"
      "No...he didn't say any of this in his letter. He
only said...he was planning to do something so bad that
I didn't want to see him ever again."
      Her face looked so forlorn that Mark wanted to
pat her on the back.
      "The colored man you met -- do you remember his
name?" asked John.
      "No...he never told it, I don't think."
      Mark ground his teeth, wanting to pace up and
down. She caught the impatience in his face and
flushed, looking more lost than ever.
      "Can you tell us exactly what you remember?"
577

said Mark, in his best Ace Ready voice.
      She spoke painfully slow. "He let us down -- he
was going to bring us all the way here but Marc said
no.” She made a face at that memory. “…and he
turned off to a house on the right. And we walked
here.”
      "Were there any houses between there and here?"
      "I don't think so."
      "And what else do you remember about him --
tall, short, white haired?"
      "Oh...he was mostly white headed, or else maybe
he didn't have much hair and...he was missing a foot! I
remember, because he told us about it and how it got
lost!"
      "All right! Let's go," said Mark.
      "Miss, if you see Marco," John said slowly. "Tell
him…tell him what?" He turned to Mark, raising his
eyebrows.
      "Tell him don't do it."
      The cook's voice called out from the house door.
"Cherry! It's been ten minutes!"
      "I'll be there," she called. "Don't do what?"
578

      "Anything! Tell him we’re staying at the Hotel
Marquis."
      "He might not want to see us," John pointed out.
      "No, but maybe he'll be curious."
      Cherry was looking back and forth, trying to make
sense of this, but the back door opened and the cook
stepped out, bearing down on them with a determined
face.
      "Your brother will be happy to hear it. Please
write him soon," said Mark. He didn't like to think of
the grilling the girl was about to endure.
      As soon as they were out of earshot, John asked,
"Why don't we just tell the police?'
      "And have him arrested?"
      "No, but they'd stop it, wouldn't they?"
      "We don't even know for sure he's here," Mark
grouched, trying not to run up the drive.
      "What's our story now?" said John, taking long
strides to keep pace with Mark's double steps.
      "Let me think on it...."
579

Chapter 56

     At the next house the door opened to reveal a tall,
severely dressed young lady in black. Her white apron
was smudged; he could only hope she wasn't the lady
of the house but maybe a cleaning girl.
     "Ma'am, my name is Mark Stewart and this is my
friend, Mr. Joseph." Mark prevaricated on the fly and
only ended up with a half lie. "We are looking for a
colored man who works here to ask him a few
questions."
     She didn't show a sign of curiosity. Watching
closely, Mark could see her avoid John's smile and
look aside, hesitating. He'd have to figure out a way to
exploit his brother's good looks in one of these
investigations, Mark decided.
     "You'll have to see Mrs. Gaillard," she said.
"Please wait."
     She left them.
     "You should have winked at her and then we
wouldn't have had to see Mrs. Gaillard," Mark hissed.
     "Shut up," muttered John.
580

     After a short wait, they were shown into an
elegant room where two elderly ladies were seated,
discussing a catalog. It looked exactly like Mother
entertaining Aunt Vincent in the parlor -- but that
resemblance sure didn't ease Mark's state of mind.
     The young lady in black stepped over to a hard-
backed chair and sat down.
     "Please sit down, Mr. Steward and...?"
     "Mr. Johnson," said Mark.
     "I hope you will make yourself comfortable,” said
the elderly lady. “May I offer you a cup of tea?"
     They both shook their heads.
     "If it is a matter of business I will be obligated to
ask you to wait for my son-in-law," she said, so
politely that they didn't realize this was an answer
waiting for their question.
     After a second of expectant silence, Mark spoke
up. "No, we're looking for a colored man whom we
believe works here, in connection with a difficult
matter. He is in no way connected with the matter, we
only request his information as a witness."
     "You seem a little young to be conducting an
581

investigation," said the young lady in black.
     "It's a matter of family honor," Mark said stiffly.
"My mother is unable to travel, so I was sent. My
sister was last seen going in to a...certain place and the
only witness named this colored man with a distinctive
missing...appendage...as a possible second witness."
     “Goodness!” said the lady. “You don’t mean
Columby?”
     Mark shrugged.
     "Marion, won't you go ask him to step in?" said
Mrs. Gaillard.
     "Beg your pardon, Ma'am, but I would expect him
to speak more freely in the absence of ladies due to the
delicate nature of the situation,” said Mark.
     "Oh, dear," said Mrs. Gaillard. "Perhaps we
should wait for Gerry, after all."
     "Madam, it is my fiancée he is speaking about,"
blurted out John. He looked convincingly sick.
     "Oh my! Show them into the dining room, dear,
and fetch him at once."
     "We can speak outside," said Mark.
     "I wouldn't hear of it! If there is anything we can
582

do to help, please knock, my dear Sirs."
     Mark and John let themselves be led into the
dining room.
     "I feel like I'm waiting for a slow fuse to spark,"
said John after a ten-minute wait. Even he was pacing
the room by then; Mark had given up pacing and was
rearranging the china cabinet when they heard a voice
outside the door and jumped to the doorway.
     "Come along, Columby," said the young lady.
She was almost pushing an elderly man to the door.
He walked with a cane aiding a pronounced limp.
Looking down quickly, Mark saw only a leather-
covered rectangle where a foot should be.
     When the door was finally shut behind, Mark said,
"Mr...?"
     "Columby," the man said without looking them in
the eye. His eyes seemed pasted to the floor.
     "Mr. Columby, won't you sit down?"
     "All right standing," he mumbled, not moving.
     "Sir, what we told the lady wasn't true. We're not
trying to find a sister; we're trying to find Marc
Corbeau. Do you know him?"
583

     "Nossuh, I don't recollect knowin’ a ge'mum by
that name."
     "We talked to a young lady who says you gave
him and her a ride a few weeks ago."
     "I done recollect it, suh."
     "Pretty lady, red hair, slim figure, about sixteen
years old?"
     The man was shaking his head, so Mark went on.
     "Marc Corbeau, he’s a black-headed fellow my
size, brown or black eyes depending on the light, full
of energy, good voice...."
     "I gives a ride to anybody who asks -- it's
politeness. But done 'spect me to ‘member any one in
particular," the man mumbled.
     "He's lying," Mark hissed, thinking hard.
     "Look, Sir, my brother's in trouble,” said John
abruptly. “Why won't you help us?"
     Mark was motioning to him to keep quiet -- he
was working up a trick that would surprise the truth out
of the man…he just needed another second to think.
     "All we want to know is did you tell him anything
that might make him want to commit murder," said
584

John.
      Mark cringed, but it was too late for any tricks.
      The old man seemed to be about to speak--
      John said, "You're not in trouble and you won't be
in trouble, but if you don't help us, he will be."
      "I'm sorry, suh--"
      "Who is he going to murder, dang it? Just tell us
that!"
      "I'd best to get back to work now."
      They both stood and watched him hobble out,
moving a whole lot faster than he had before.
      He stopped just past the door and looked back.
"I'm sorry I don't know this brother of yours, but if I
was you, I'd leave him alone to tend to his own
bidness."
      He turned slowly and disappeared.
      Skunked.
      "Let's get some food, I'm starving," said Mark.
      "Yes and hurry, before that lady in weeds invites
us to luncheon," said John.
      They ducked down the hall and escaped out the
door without saying good-bye.
585




Chapter 57

     They ate ham and sweet potatoes in the hotel
lunchroom. It was the cheapest meal served, but John
let out a groan at seeing another fifty cents of his horse
fund go south.
     They ate in silence, mostly staring out the
window. Mark tried and discarded a hundred plots to
scare the truth out of the old man, but he didn't think a
single one of them would work.
     "It's like he knew exactly what we were talking
about, but he wanted Marco to succeed," he said at last.
     "Let's go outside," said John.
     "Let's go in the tavern; I saw it down the street
when we came back."
     "Going fishing?"
     "Sort of. I’ve been thinking. This is a pretty
small place, and I don't see how a murder at the train
depot can just go along without building up a good bit
of gossip. Let's go ask the bartender."
586

     "Uh...sure," said John, looking at the horses tied
up on the street.
     "What?"
     "Thought I saw something," he said.
Mark was too intent on his mission to wait. There
were only a few men in the bar that afternoon. One
man was reading a newspaper under the window; a
couple of others were talking pig prices over a sheaf of
receipts. He stepped right up to the counter and waited
impatiently for the bartender to end his conversation
with the only man seated at the bar.
     "What can I get you?" said the bartender to John,
ignoring the younger boy.
     "Nothing, but can I ask you a question?" said
Mark. "I'm trying to find out about a murder,
committed at the depot. Supposedly it was over some
man stepping on another's toes."
     "Don't rang a bell," said the bartender, scratching
his head. "You'd thank if they'd a-been a killin’, I'd a-
heard about it."
     "Yeah," said Mark. It had been an idiotic idea.
     "Better ask the town gossip over there. He knows
587

every thang that’s fit to be knowed in this little one-
hoss bug."
     He raised his voice to get the attention of the man
holding the newspaper. "These boys want to know
about a murder."
     "Are you a newspaper reporter?" said Mark
eagerly, galloping over. "Is it a local paper--"
     They both pulled up short. He didn't look like a
reporter.
     "I'm the sheriff," he said. "Why are you askin'
about a murder?"
     "It's just I'm...I'm a writer. I heard about a murder
here, in the depot. A man stepping on another man's
toes -- and I wanted to put it into a story."
     "Come to think of it, I did hear something of the
sort. It was a nigger what got shot."
     "Who did it? Did they hang him?"
     "Fellow named Jack Rimmer did it...hang him?
Naw. Come to think of it, he's wanted for robbing and
beating a storekeeper’s wife, down in Schreiver.
Funny you should be asking about him."
     He was giving both boys a hard stare and it was
588

making them both squirm.
     "What's the name of the man who got killed?"
asked Mark.
     "I didn't say any man got killed," said the Sheriff.
He was still sitting down but the tone of his voice was
towering over them. "I said there was a story that a
nigger was shot. It never happened, so I suggest you
go back where you came from and make up a new
story, all your own."
     "But if you find this Jack Rimmer, what will you
do with him?"
     "He’ll go to prison for the robbin’ and beatin’, but
he ain't been seen in these parts in two months.
Reckon he's far, far gone -- like you're about to be.
You and -- what's this boy doing here?"
     "I'm his brother," said John, nodding at Mark. "Pa
sent me along to keep him out of trouble."
     "You'd better do a really good job," said the
Sheriff, threatening. His voice backed them out of the
room.
     "Thanky Sir," said Mark brightly.
     "Waving a red flag at a bull," said John, trying to
589

shake an aching head.
     "Now, we go to the seedier taverns and ask after
Jack Rimmer," said Mark.
     "But the Sheriff said--"
     "Yeah, and the Sheriff also said there hadn't been
a murder and we know he was lying."
     "Mark...look at that horse."
     "Huh?"
     "Tied up outside the post office; bay stallion with
the two white stockings. Fine build; the neck and face
looks like he's got some Araby in him; shows a good
turn of speed, I bet."
     "You fixing to buy him with what's left of your
four hundred dollars?"
     "I saw that horse at Marco's Grandmother's," John
said, striding rapidly forward.
     "Yo-ho!" They were almost running when they
got up to the horse, but there was no owner. He stood
there flicking his tail to roust an occasional fly, but he
didn’t show any signs of knowing where he came from.
     "Let's wait," suggested John.
     "Yes but let's get behind the wagon and hunker
590

down so we can't be seen if the Sheriff comes out of
the bar," said Mark, looking over his shoulder.
     It wasn’t five minutes before a young black man
came out, glanced over them, and climbed up to the
wagon seat.
     "Wait!" hollered Mark, clutching at the wheels.
He wasn't letting this prize get away.
     "That's a fine horse," said John. "Any chance he's
for sale?"
     "Nossuh. He's Missus Corbeau's."
     "Yes, I thought I saw him out there. Can we have
a minute of your time? My brother's got something to
ask you,” said John.
     Great, thought Mark. After flubbing it up twice,
John finally had the brains to turn it over to him...only
without any warning.
     "We're trying to find out who the man was that
was killed at the depot by a Jack Rimmer," said Mark,
putting on his best, innocent smile. "Did you happen
to know his name?"
     "No, sir," the young man said. He didn’t move the
reins but the horse backed up anyway.
591

     "We're wanting to know because our boss is Hank
Power. You’ve heard of him."
     "No."
     "You better, because you’re going to be hearing a
lot of him in a year from now. He's a lawyer now, but
he's going to be governor of this state before long!"
     The boy gave him a funny look, but didn't start the
horse yet.
     "This Jack Rimmer is wanted for beating and
robbing a storekeeper’s wife, and when we find him,
my boss is going to put him up for murder, too. That
man he killed at the depot – Mr. Power’s got the
witnesses ready to testify to it. Our job is finding him
-- thought we might start by talking to the relatives of
the man he killed."
     "How's that going to make your Mr. Power
gov'ner?"
     "The trial's going to blow this town apart. We
already know the sheriff is trying to hush it up,
probably to hide some secrets. We'll have reporters
from New York City down here watching this trial--it'll
be a national event. Everybody's going to know the
592

name Hank Power."
     The young man stared at him, wanting to believe
them. You could tell it in the way he licked his lips
and fidgeted.
     "You might talk to his son. Ben Dawson,” he
said, speaking real low. "How come you don't know
his name, if your boss is going to trial the man for his
murder?"
     "It's our job to find out. The witnesses he got,
they don't know neither, what his name was. But they
saw it. He's gonna tell them at the trial -- you'll see
how he works a courtroom."
     The young man paused, considering. Mark tried
not to hold his breath--
     "His name was Renny Dawson,” said the young
man.
     "And where might we find this Ben Dawson, his
son?” asked Mark.
     "He lives with his wife and mother, two houses
down from the De Chien crossing," said the man. He
looked over his shoulder and lowered his voice some
more. "He was tracking after old Jack Rimmer for a
593

while, thinking on shooting him, but his wife got to
him and begged him off. I 'spect he knows where the
man is, and he might help you if you say I sent you."
      "Can you point us where to go?" asked John.
      "Reckon I can..." another quick glance around.
"I'll drop you off there if you're going now. It ain't far
out of my way."
      Mark and John climbed up, feeling uneasy about
the lie. Trying to hide their faces in case the Sheriff
came out, they sat quietly and watched the town move
by. Mark started to tease John about drooling over the
horse, but thought better of it.
      "I heard there was another boy hanging round,
asking about old Jack Rimmer too," the young man
said casually, flicking the reins and looking at them out
of the corner of his eye.
      Mark jerked in his seat and hissed at John. "Dang!
Hope it ain't old Parson's boy."
      "How so?" said the boy, overhearing easily.
      "He's setting himself up to be the lawyer for the
defense. If he gets hold of Dawson first, there's no
telling what kind of lies he'll put him up to. What’s his
594

boy look like?"
     "They said he was a dirty tramp, wouldn't show
his face in the light of day. I never saw him," supplied
the young man.
     "Sounds just like him," said Mark, faking a sigh.
     The young man didn't look convinced.
     "Where're you'all from?"
     "New York," said Mark quickly. He'd noticed
John's mouth about to speak. Mr. Power hired us when
he was up there last month."
     "How come your friend don't talk much?"
     "He ain't paid to do the talking. He's the brawn,
I'm the brains,” said Mark, nudging John's shin with a
toe.
     "That's a lie!" said John, trying to act belligerent.
     "Ain't neither!"
     "You ain't so smart, you just think you are!"
     "Excuse me, gentlemen, we're here," said the
young man, grinning. "Leastways, I stop here. The
house is over there, that one set back off the road
further’n the others."
     Mark and John got down.
595

      "Looks like the women are working beside the
house," he called, driving away.
      "I feel bad," said Mark, trying to make his feet
start the walk over to the house.
      "You told a lot of lies, bud."
      "Won't you talk to them? I can't do this anymore
– it was bad enough leading on that poor boy. He
thinks we’re going to get a murderer caught, when
really...we're going to keep him from getting caught.
And now…lieing to a bunch of women...."
      "I don't know what to say," said John. Facing the
three pairs of suspicious eyes, he was also having
trouble taking a step forward.
      "Just tell the truth, then. It might get us
somewhere -- I dunno."
      John cleared his throat, but he didn't need any
noise to get their attention. Three pairs of eyes never
left his face.
      It was a pretty big garden they were digging up --
forty by sixty feet, all mud. There was a grown woman
and a young one, both in mud up to their boot tops, and
an eight-year-old girl, barefooted. They were working
596

with hoes and a digging fork to break up the soil for
spring planting. As the older women turned up the
weeds, the girl carried them to a big pile for burning.
     "Hullo," said John, so faintly it was a whisper.
Didn't matter -- they were all staring at him anyway.
"I'm looking for Ben--"
     "Dawson," prompted Mark.
     "That so? If you find him, send him home to do
his planting," said the grown woman. Her ragged
calico dress was spattered with mud that was almost as
black as her smooth black skin, but her face was nice-
featured and could have been beautiful, if there'd been
any hope of a smile in it.
     "I'm hoping he can help find Jack Rimmer. And
my brother -- Marc Corbeau."
     The woman didn't react to that, but the young
woman's eyes went to the ground in a flash of white.
Mark could see that his brother didn't catch her
reaction -- he went on talking to the older woman.
     "He's lost and we sure could use help finding him.
There might even be a reward in it."
     "A...bounty?" she whispered.
597

      "No! Just a reward for information," he said,
shuddering.
      "I saw him three-four weeks ago," she said. "Not
since."
      "You know him?" said John, startled.
      "Pretty near everybody these parts knows Marc
Corbeau. And he was a friend of my husband's."
      "What did he say, when you saw him?" asked
John.
      “He wanted to know who shot Renny,” she said,
slowly. “And when I told him, he said he was going to
kill the man.”
      She took a minute to record the shock on their
faces.
      Mark couldn’t help muttering, “If he succeeds
now, after blasting it all over town, he’s a goner.”
      “I was hoping you were coming to tell me he’d
done it,” she continued.
      “He hasn’t,” John said bluntly. “Let’s go.”
      They turned and strode away, too mad to look
back.
      “Wait,” called a voice. The young woman was
598

running after them.
      “Ben knows,” she said, surprisingly out of breath
after such a short run. Mark noticed that she was a
little thick around the middle — thick enough to be
adding to poor Ben’s problems before long.
      “Are you his wife?”
      “Yes. I know where he is, but he won’t let me tell
his mother,” she whispered, gesturing back with her
chin. “He and Marc have been waiting out behind
Red’s tavern at nights, waiting for old Jack to stop off
and get his liquor. He’s hiding in the swamp but Ben
don’t know ‘xactly where.”
      “If he knows this, why doesn’t he tell the
Sheriff?”
      “I…don’t know.” She swallowed hard, too proud
to cry in front of them, but it was pretty obvious that
she suspected the worst and was worried sick about it.
“Please, don’t let my Ben get hurt.”
      “I’ll try,” said John, trying to back away.
      “Wait — where is this tavern?” asked Mark.
      “In town, past the livery stables. You’ll be able to
find it easy. Please…send him home if you see him.”
599

      It was Mark’s turn to cringe.
600

Chapter 58

     Mark had the bright idea of checking out the
woods behind the tavern before dark, so they’d know
the best spot to hide in. Or so he thought. After
spending one minute skulking around back there, they
were both run off by the owner. He reckoned they
looked like thieves.
     So they ate a small meal — apples, bread and
cheese, another thirty cents gone — and wandered the
streets until it was dark enough that they wouldn’t be
seen.
     “I think that’s the door he’d go in,” said Mark,
low. “Let’s get in the cedars back there where we can
see it well.”
     Hidden under the cedars, they found what had to
be the only dry ground in that whole country. So they
both sat down and yawned until it got dark…and
darker…and darker.
     “Is there a moon tonight at all?” griped Mark.
     “I didn’t notice.”
     “Seems like—hush—“
601

     A shambling form had just gone up and knocked
on the door. Mark realized there must have been a
moon coming up somewhere or they wouldn’t have
been able to see even that. It was pitch black under the
trees.
     “That’s it,” said John, starting to get up.
     “Wait on! It ain’t him we’re after.”
     They watched, concentrating so hard their eyes
watered.
     Lugging a canvas sack, he went off in the exact
opposite direction from their hiding place.
     “Should we follow him?”
     “I guess so,” said Mark, feeling uncertain for
once. He started trying to get up without making a
noise.
     At the very limits of vision they saw a scuffle. It
looked like two men had set on the man—
     Running after, Mark tried to quiet the beating of
his heart enough to hear the commotion — but it
vanished as suddenly as it started. He ran blindly, a
few feet off the road and tripping on every tangling
vine.
602

      John took to the road, sneaking along in parallel.
      “It’s hopeless,” Mark panted, finally joining him.
      “They couldn’t have gone far if they were
carrying him.”
      “Yes but — over there!” Mark caught a glimpse
of light away ahead, off the road to the right.
      As they sneaked up, the spark turned into the
corners of a tin lantern’s windows. Mark held his
breath and crept closer. It was so dark there, he could
only tell that John was next to him by the faint sound
of his breathing.
      A man was sitting up on the ground beside a
three-foot tall chunk of log. His hands and feet were
tied with rope, his mouth was gagged…and a
hangman’s noose was tight around his neck. He was
struggling as he rose up, but the rope stayed taught
around his neck.
      Marco’s voice said coolly, “Time for you to go
now. Make sure you’re seen by lots of people.”
      He spoke loud enough to be easily heard by the
man on the ground. Trying to yell through the gag, the
man jumped up — and Mark saw the rope instantly go
603

taut again. It was looped over a heavy branch above.
The other end was held by a man in the shadow of the
tree — he snubbed the rope around the stub of a
chopped-off branch and tied a loose knot.
     When the man stepped out of the shadows, he had
no face, only holes — he wore a mask made out of a
burlap sack.
     “What you talkin’ ‘bout?” said the man, voice
muffled by the mask.
     “I want a plenty of witnesses to swear that you
had nothing to do with this man’s hanging.”
     Marco looked straight at the prisoner as he spoke
— the man’s choked-off yells grew louder as he tried
to be heard through the tight gag.
     The masked man hustled Marco over close to the
trees where Mark and John were standing. He spoke
low, but they could hear him plainly.
     “You’re—you’re just fooling with him, ain’t you?
You swore it!”
     “I lied,” said Marco, pushing past him.
     He walked over to the end of the rope, taking it off
the branch and tightening it up a fraction more. “Stand
604

up on those logs behind you,” he ordered, and started
leaning on the rope so that the prisoner had no choice.
He stepped on the chunks of logs until he was on the
top—three feet above the ground. Marco looped the
heavy rope back around the knob.
     Mark noticed then that they were in an old wood-
yard. Chunks of logs were littered all around.
     There was another man standing quietly in the
shadows of the trees, just behind the prisoner. He
stayed so still, he seemed more like a somber ghost
than a living person. Chills crept up Mark's spine.
     Suddenly the masked man rushed forward,
knocking Marco off his feet. A flurry of movement—
then the masked man hit the ground, too. They
scuffled, standing up and swinging wild blows—
     “Get ‘em,” said Mark, jumping out into the light.
He grabbed the masked man from behind and backed
him off — the man stopped fighting at once — he was
trying to move the mask around on his eyes so he could
see who had him.
     John had got hold of Marco. Struggling and
cursing, Marco slammed a heel into his brother’s instep
605

and almost got loose—
      “Stop fighting — it’s us!” shouted Mark.
      He let go of the masked man and grabbed the
lantern, shoving it in Marco’s face — a face he almost
didn’t recognize. The look in the eyes was
unrelentingly mean; the mouth was set in a permanent
sneer that didn’t light up in recognition.
      “We won’t let you do this,” said John.
      Marco pulled away, turning to face him.
      “He sent you.”
      “No, we run off. We figured if you could do it, so
could we,” said Mark.
      He wanted to grin with relief--relief that Marc
actually did recognize them — but the hateful
expression in the black eyes wasn’t letting him relax.
      Mark turned to the masked man, realizing for the
first time that it was just a boy, hardly taller than
himself. He figured it was Ben — and if so, Ben was
better off gone.
      “Go get the sheriff and we’ll turn this man in,”
Mark said, gesturing at the prisoner. “He’s wanted for
a beating and robbing – and they got witnesses. He’ll
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go to prison for sure. There ain’t no need to hang
him.”
     Ben ran off, ripping off his mask and throwing it
as far away in the woods as he could.
     “You ain’t stopping me,” said Marco, stepping
toward the prisoner. He moved slowly, and Mark
didn’t react until he saw the flash of a saw blade —
Marco had picked up a short handsaw, with a wicked,
pointed blade like a knife. He held it by his side, not
threatening, just ready.
     “What are you here for?” he asked.
     “We came to get you,” said Mark
     “Why?”
     John didn’t seem to be able to talk, so Mark said,
“So he—“ he jerked a thumb—“can tell you he’s sorry,
you dumb as a post, you. We want you to come home;
we miss you.”
     “You miss me?” said Marco, sounding disgusted.
     “Sure. Look — you ain’t never seen spring in
New England. It’s green and warm. John’s got a
couple of foals due any day; we can go fishing. You
ain’t lived till you eat Ma Biggs'es fried trout.”
607

     Marco was looking at him as if he were crazy, and
he felt like he was. He was babbling with fear, trying
to stumble on an idea that made sense...that would
divert an insane person from completing an insane
mission.
     Walking slowly back to the tied up end of the
rope, Marco pulled it a twitch tighter and checked the
knot.
     The prisoner started mumbling through his gag
again, frantic with rage and fear.
     John took a step forward and Marco spun around,
tightening his grip on the saw.
     “I’m s—sorry I yelled at you,” John stammered.
“I was mad…because you both almost drowned and I
couldn’t save you. I was scared. Anyway, I got a right
to yell at you — you’re my little brother.”
     “And mine,” said Mark.
     “Really?” mumbled Marco, halfway trying to
smile--in a face that had forgotten how.
     His face fell back into the suspicious scowl that
seemed to belong there.
     John nodded. “Sorry I was so mean. Come on
608

back with us — your piano’s waiting.”
      Marco looked back to the struggling man.
      After a minute he muttered, “Well...thanks but…it
used to would have mattered a lot. But now...I come a
long way to do this. I guess you’re too late.”
      Deliberately he moved toward the prisoner, but he
didn’t take a careful eye off the two brothers. He used
the tip of the saw to snag loose the gag on the man’s
mouth.
      “Mister Jack Rimmer, you killed a man what
never done nothing bad to nobody. He had a wife and
kids depending on him for a living, and he had a whole
bunch of friends what cried for him. Which is two
things you’ll never have.”
      The man shouted in a voice so hoarse it was
painful to hear. “I shot a dog, that’s all I did! I’d do it
again right now—“
      “Shut up!” Marco replaced the gag and gave the
chunk of log a nudge. The prisoner scrambled to keep
his balance, then stood still.
      There was a noise of heavy, running feet — Mark
had never been so relieved in his life. He wheeled
609

around and stared at the darkness — the sheriff and
two big men strode up, hauling along the black boy
Ben with them.
     The prisoner’s muffled shouting started up again
as the Sheriff and the men stopped at the edge of the
clearing, looking the situation over.
     “Do something!” yelled Mark, running up and
shaking the Sheriff’s arm.
     “Sho’ly,” drawled the Sheriff. “Take a’holt of
them two boys,” he told his men.
     Mark tried to dodge away, but a hand like a
meathook twisted his arm behind his back. Another
arm went around his neck, poised to choke off the air.
     “Stop him, dang it all! You can arrest the man
now!” he yelled.
     The sherriff’s other man had a gun pointed at John
from about one foot away. John was frozen, staring at
the barrel.
     “I reckon you and Ben have got the right idea,”
said the Sheriff to Marco, not budging. “This man
needs to hang, and I’ve got two witnesses to testify that
they saw you’all do it. Get on with it.”
610

      He shoved Ben forward into the light — Ben’s
hands were manacled behind his back and his feet had
been hobbled with a short rope. He could walk, but he
wouldn’t be able to run far.
      Marco froze at the sight.
      “A pair of hangings should clean this county out,”
said the Sheriff. “Maybe four of them, if I get a
hangin’ judge.”
      “You can’t touch him,” said Marco, pointing a
finger at Ben. “He’s standing right there — he ain’t
done nothing. They ain’t done nothing.”
      “Dare me,” said the Sheriff. “Everybody knows
that Ben here has been threatening old Rimmer for two
years. And a little piss ant like you didn’t do this
without help — I won’t have trouble finding someone
to swear to seeing you together.”
      “But you’re watching me do it!”
      “Don’t see any of ‘em stopping you, neither. At
the least they’ll serve some time in prison for
accomplicing.”
      Marco rocked back and forth on his feet — the
first time Mark had seen him lose his cool
611

determination. He looked thin and starved, but tough
enough to do murder and pay the price for it— and
mean enough to call the Sheriff’s bluff…
      But was he mean enough to take an innocent man
to the hangman with him?”
      “His wife’s having a baby,” said John.
      “Yeah, I know," said Marco.
      “She asked us to send him home, if we found
him,” John added.
      “Yeah,” said Marco, closing his eyes like it hurt.
The prisoner’s face had taken on a sneer of triumph…
but his eyes were uncertain.
      Marco walked over to the rope…agonizingly
slow…and started to untie the knot that held it taut --
but he never finished. The man in the darkness under
the trees hobbled forward -- with a small-caliber rifle
aimed directly at Marco’s chest.
      “Stop right there,” said Columby--the driver with
the frozen-off foot. He was leaning on his cane but the
rifle was held level and steady. “I came here to see a
hanging.”
      Pointing the cane, he knocked over the chunk of
612

tree under the hanged man’s feet.
     The man fell—two feet down.
     The sheriff reached for his gun but Marco moved
quicker. He jumped toward Columby, almost getting a
hand on the rifle as the man backed up, stumbling in
his haste to get away.
     A shot fired from a deputy’s gun and Marco
crashed to the ground.
     John kicked off from the ground and slammed his
entire weight in his captor’s stomach, knocking the
man backward. The pistol – the gun that had fired –
bounced away into the shadows.
     John jumped for the tree and got hold of the rope
loop. He pried it off the broken branch, tearing off
bark and ripping his skin raw.
     The slow-swinging body crashed to the ground.
     Columby had dropped his rifle and stood staring,
shaking on his one foot.
     Marco crawled over to the body and loosened the
noose.
     The man’s chest heaved.
     Marco crawled upright, hanging onto the piece of
613

log. He managed to get up onto the log and Mark saw
that his left leg was soaked in blood.
     Mark shook off his captor’s arm and realized there
was no need – it was over. The Sheriff picked up
Columby’s gun.
     “I’m glad you ain’t dead,” Marco said, addressing
the man on the ground. “Dead men are happy—you
don’t deserve that. I want you to get as much pain and
misery as your miserable stinking life will bring to you.
Hide in the swamp or rot in prison; you got what you
deserve.”
     The man gasped, choking in his hurry to get air.
He looked like he was about to puke.
     “Have a long life,” said Marco.
614

Chapter 59

     “School will come to order. I believe the essay
for this week was to be entitled, ‘The application of
school studies in my future life.’
     “Mr. Vincent, you may begin.”
     Mr. Hammond straightened the grade book lying
open before him. Giving an audible sigh, he folded his
hands on the desktop and looked up, waiting for John.
     John stood up nervously and shuffled the papers in
his hand. Looking at Mr. Hammond, he took a deep
breath, then dropped his eyes to the top sheet of paper.
     “Standardbred line. Messenger, imported from
England in 1788, his sire was Mambrino and his
grandsire, Engineer. His son Bishop’s Hambletonian
was bred to Silvertail and sired One Eye, a crippled
mare. Mambrino was bred with Messenger’s
granddaughter, Amazonia, and produced Abdullah.
One Eye was bred to Abdullah to produce
Hambletonian, 1849.
     “Thoroughbred. On the top are three sires: the
Darley Arabian, Byerley Turk and Godolphin Barb.
615

The Darley Arabian was bred to Betty Leedes, of the
Leedes Arabian line—“
     “What are you reading?”
     John seemed unable to speak. After an uncertain
pause, Mr. Hammond snatched the papers out of his
hand.
     “Lineage of the major horse breeds of the
Americas,” read Mr. Hammond. “Is this some kind of
joke?”
     “No, Sir, it’s my future life,” said John. "I'm
going to be--"
     “Sit down!”
     “You told us to write about our future life—“
     “Down!”
     Mr. Hammond scribbled a single letter in his
grade book – unmistakably a zero. Muttering to
himself, he threw the pen down. Ink spread out in a
dull blot on the desktop.
     “Mr. Corbeau,” he ordered. “Read.”
     “Well I can’t exactly read it, in words,” said
Marco, standing up and supporting himself on the
desktop as he cripped around the desk. One leg was
616

lame, but it was supporting enough weight to let him
move without a crutch. “If you want to go down to the
music room, I’ll play it for you.”
     Raising his eyebrows in a question, he handed the
essay to Mr. Hammond.
     Mr. Hammond stared at the paper like he’d never
seen one before.
     Marco explained, “It’s a piano sonata, see –
Sonata in B-flat, The Wind Demon Sonata. I wrote it
for the essay.”
     “You may be seated.”
     “Wouldn’t you like to hear it—“
     “No. Mr. Mark, hand me what you’ve written.”
     Mark waited patiently for Marco to get back in his
seat, then rose, forcing his mouth not to reveal a smile.
He handed up a sheaf of sixty or so close-written
pages.
     “Ace Marlin and the Case of the Pedigreed
Peppers,” read Mr. Hammond.
     He stood up and put on his hat. Picking up a
satchel of books, he walked to the door.
     “But, Sir! What’s the essay for next week?”
617

called Mark.
      “I wouldn’t know. I quit.”
      The door closed behind him.
      “Ah reckon we’ah in a heap’o trouble,” drawled
Mark, aping Marco’s accent.
      “You don’t say, indeed?” said Marco,
exaggerating a proper Bostonian speech.
      “Get’cha cane, crip, and we’ll go take Frederick
the Great out for an airing. He ain’t been out’a the
stable in four weeks,” said John.
      “Aren’t you gonna try and stop him?”
      “Hambone? Good riddance. Nobody thrashes my
little brothers--except me.”
      “Like to see you try,” they said at the same time.



      the end.
      for now

				
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